I’ve got a new piece at LobeLog today looking at the results of a recent poll of Iranians commissioned by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Iranian nuclear deal, and it seems that many Iranians who once supported the deal are starting to wonder when, or if, they’re ever going to see any benefit from it:
The shift in Iranian opinion with respect to the JCPOA has been sudden and sharp. In August 2015 75.5% of Iranians either strongly or somewhat approved of the deal, compared to 62.6% in June 2016. Iranian perceptions of the fairness of the deal have shifted dramatically. Back then, 11.9% agreed that, in the deal, Iran had “made many important concessions” to the P5+1 while 22.6% agreed that the P5+1 had “made many important concessions” to Iran. Now those numbers have turned completely around, with 19% agreeing that Iran made many concessions to the P5+1 but only 5.1% agreeing that the P5+1 made many concessions to Iran. Overall, 27.3% of Iranians now say that their officials negotiated a “bad deal” in the JCPOA, up from only 10% who thought so in a Gallup poll taken last September. The percentage of Iranians who say the JCPOA was a “good deal” has declined from 68% in that Gallup poll to 61.6% today.
To be completely fair, a lot of Iranians had unrealistic expectations about how quickly the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions would boost their economy, and cheap oil is counteracting some of the JCPOA’s benefits. Also, problems with corruption and inefficiency reduce Iran’s investment appeal even without sanctions barring the door. But Iranians aren’t entirely wrong to be frustrated. The Obama administration has, frankly, not done enough to explain to Western companies what they’re now free to do with respect to Iran and what will still cause them to run afoul of sanctions that are still in place for things like Iran’s support for Hezbollah, its human rights record, etc. Consequently, though nuclear-related sanctions on Iran have been lifted, the effect of those sanctions is in many ways still in place. And anti-Iran Republicans in Congress are doing their best to keep it that way.
There also appears to be some correlation between Iranians learning more about the terms of the JCPOA, the terms of which did trip some Iranian red lines over things like dismantling centrifuges and limiting nuclear research, and its declining popularity. The upshot of all of this appears to be that Hassan Rouhani’s reelection chances, which looked so good after Iran’s parliamentary elections earlier this year, are suddenly not looking quite as good. He’s still the most popular political figure in Iran, with a combined “very favorable” and “somewhat favorable” rating over 80%, but his “very favorable” rating has declined by about a third. More ominously, in a hypothetical matchup with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which Rouhani was winning by more than 20 points last May, Rouhani’s lead is down into the single digits. And as I note in the piece, Ahmadinejad isn’t even the most formidable candidate Rouhani could face next year. The obvious reason for Rouhani’s declining popularity is that the Iranian economy is still listless, which people attribute to the failure of Rouhani’s signature achievement. So not only is he paying for the weak economy, he’s also paying for the perception that his nuclear deal was a bust. And, just for good measure, he’s now being buffeted by corruption allegations at some of Iran’s largest banks and insurance companies, whose executives–many of them friendly with Rouhani–have apparently been enriching themselves at the Iranian people’s expense.
You may not think that Rouhani is much of a reformer, and you may be right about that, but he’s almost certainly the closest thing to a reformer that we’re going to see at or near the top of the Iranian political scene for the foreseeable future. It would be good if American policy wasn’t explicitly undermining him back home.