Western pundits like to console themselves that while Iran’s leaders may be fiercely anti-American, its people, especially the young, are another matter: pro-Western aspiring democrats who, if allowed to vote freely, would elect a more agreeable government. Now a poll released today by WorldOpinion.org paints a more complex picture.
The United States is still reviled, though somewhat less than a year ago. The new poll shows that 69 percent of Iranians have an unfavorable view of the United States, down from 76 percent in December 2006, when the last poll was taken. Likewise, the portion of Iranians who say they have a very unfavorable view dropped 14 points, from 65 percent to 51 percent. Feelings about the U.S. government are similarly fraught—75 percent hold an unfavorable view—though this has dropped 9 points since last year. Asked whether the United States is having a positive or negative influence in the world, the same number—75 percent—said it is having a negative influence.
The American people, on the other hand, seem to have turned a corner in the eyes of the Iranian public. A slim majority of 51 percent said they hold favorable views of Americans, up six points from the last poll. In addition, a majority of Iranians favor building closer relations with the United States through direct talks, better access for journalists, more cultural exchanges and more trade.
On the issues that matter most to the West—Iran’s nuclear program and support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the public closely follows Tehran. Take the government first. Two-thirds of Iranians give it positive marks and say the country is generally moving in the right direction. On the nuclear question, six in 10 Iranians think bombs run counter to Islam. That sounds good. But 81 percent also say it’s “very important” for Iran to have a full-fledged nuclear-fuel program. This is exactly the government’s position. Given that Iran has the world’s second-largest oil reserves—and thus no need for alternative energy—it’s pretty clear what it wants that nuclear fuel for.