Wednesday, 21 August, 2019

Poll shows Iranian attitudes towards Europe becoming more negative

A new survey conducted by research firm IranPoll offers the first insights into Iranian public sentiment following the reimposition of US secondary sanctions on Iran. The representative survey, conducted between December 4 and December 12 of last year, was derived from telephone interviews over 1,000 Iranians and included questions that IranPoll has been asking over a period of several years as part of its “State of Iran” series.

The new wave of polling helps confirm recent reporting from Iran suggesting that support for the JCPOA has fallen, with just 51 percent of respondents approving of the deal compared to 55 percent in January 2018. The proportion of respondents who “strongly disapprove” of the agreement has risen to 16 percent, up 2 percent from April of this year. Negative views of the JCPOA can be explained in part by the fact that Iranians do not feel that they have received any benefits from the agreement. A clear 81 percent of respondents say that living conditions have not improved, the highest proportion recorded since June 2016.

However, views of the economy have improved slightly when compared to April 2018, a finding that may reflect the recent stabilization in currency markets after the rial’s sharp slide in the first half of 2018. While most Iranians continue to believe that economic conditions are “getting worse,” the proportion is down to 60 percent from 64 percent in April 2018.

Notably, following the full reimposition of US secondary sanctions on Iran in November 2018, there has been a shift in views regarding which factors are most to blame for Iran’s economic hardships. Iranians continue to believe that “domestic economic mismanagement” has the “greatest negative impact on the Iranian economy,” but the proportion has fallen from 63 percent in January 2018 to 59 percent in the latest survey. Meanwhile, the proportion of those who see “foreign sanctions and pressures” as having the greatest negative impact on the economy has risen from 32 percent to 36 percent.

President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has likely contributed to Iranians holding far more negative views of the United States. A significant 72 percent of respondents viewed the United States “very unfavorably,” the highest proportion since July 2014. This proportion is up 5 percent from January 2018 and 14 percent since June 2016, the final survey prior to Trump’s election.

While the deterioration in views of the United States was to be expected, the increasingly negative view of Europe among Iranians is perhaps both more surprising and more concerning.

When asked how confident they are that “European countries will live up to their obligations toward the nuclear agreement,” just 43 percent of respondents expressed confidence, down from 60 percent in January 2018. There remains a belief that Europeans should be able to do more—particularly in economic terms—to save the nuclear deal, with 81 percent of respondents saying that European countries are moving slower than they can to trade and invest in Iran, up from 78 percent in April 2018.

These results suggest that Europe’s inability to keep the United States in the nuclear deal, and the subsequent failure mitigate the effect of secondary sanctions, has become part of Iranian public consciousness. This is further reflected in changes in the favorability ratings of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom—the European parties to the nuclear deal.

Germany continues to be viewed favorably, with 55 percent of respondents reporting positive views, although this proportion is down 6 percent since January 2018. France has reverted to being viewed mostly unfavorably, with just 46 percent of respondents reporting positive views, down from 55 percent in January 2018. Similarly, while in January 2018 negative views of the United Kingdom had fallen to the lowest levels measured across seven IranPoll surveys, the December 2018 results saw unfavorable views rise 6 percent to 73 percent.

Meanwhile, views of China and Russia are stable—the other remaining parties to the JCPOA registered 55 percent and 63 percent favorability respectively.

Overall, the increasing doubts over the nuclear deal and the credibility of the European parties have pushed a growing number of Iranians to turn their back on the international community, particularly when it comes to Iran’s economic development.

When asked which strategy Iran should adopt if it could only pursue one, 69 percent believed that the country should “strive to achieve economic self-sufficiency,” the highest proportion IranPoll has measured to date and a remarkable 16 percentage points higher than the level in July 2014 when the nuclear negotiations were first gaining momentum. Today, just 29 percent of Iranians believe that Iran should “strive to increase its trade with other countries.”

For European policymakers, the new polling presents a stark warning that they must refocus their political and economic efforts to save the nuclear deal. Unless European diplomacy can restore trust with the Iranian electorate, it is possible that popular support for the nuclear deal will continue to atrophy even as extraordinary efforts, such as the establishment of the INSTEX special purpose vehicle, are pursued to save the JCPOA. With Iran’s parliamentary elections fast approaching, the embitterment of the Iranian public could become a political liability with long-term implications.

Photo Credit: IRNA

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