Scotten Consulting’s take on current events and regional trends.

Poll Results Suggest Majority of Rouhani’s Opponents are Reformists – And Why That May Be a Good Thing


The Zogby polling agency has just released the results of a poll it conducted in Iran this past September, shortly after Hassan Rouhani assumed the presidency. Two patterns, which struck me as interesting, could contribute to a positive outcome in the Iranian nuclear dispute:



  • The nuclear program is a low priority for most Iranians (making it easier for Rouhani to sell to the public any concessions he makes to the West).
  • The majority of Rouhani’s opponents do not appear to come from the conservative base.


Based on the poll, Iran’s nuclear program and its standoff with the international community rank low among most Iranians’ priorities. Apparently, Iranians are most interested in improved job opportunities and democratic reform. Furthermore, the issue of sanctions does not appear to have been high on voters’ minds during Iran’s recent presidential election—contrary to the belief of a number of U.S. officials who attributed Rouhani’s win to the “crippling” sanctions they had placed on the Islamic Republic.

There is one important caveat, though. Despite its low overall importance to Iranians, a whopping 96% of respondents agreed that “maintaining the right to advance a nuclear program is worth the price being paid in economic sanctions and international isolation.” In other words, the best way to provoke a nationalist backlash is to push for a complete dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program.

Reformist Opposition?

What struck me as most interesting were results suggesting that the significant portion of opposition to Rouhani may come more from reform-minded individuals than conservatives. Specifically, the aggregate responses from those who did not support Rouhani’s election appear to align with positions you would expect to hear from those who are critical of the conservative establishment. Here are two examples:

  • While 59% of Rouhani supporters agreed that the “Iranian model [of governance] is a good one for other countries in the region to emulate,” 52% of Rouhani opponents disagreed with that statement.
  • When asked about the impact of Iran’s policies in Syria, 57% of those who do not support Rouhani responded that they’ve had a negative impact. Meanwhile, 49% of Rouhani supporters said they’ve had a negative impact (still high, but less than the first group).


Now, to assess the accuracy of this reading, we would need more detail on the nature of the responses. For instance, did some of the Rouhani opponents not see the Iranian model as good for the region because it is not conservative enough? Likewise, could they have been saying that Iran’s impact in Syria was negative because it hadn’t done enough to back the Assad regime? My assumption is that conservatives would not criticize the Iranian model or Iran’s actions in Syria in front of a pollster. But we will have to wait to consult the more detailed results, if they are released.

However, if Rouhani’s main popular opposition indeed comes from Iran’s reform-minded individuals, this would be a positive development. Because, for the Iranian president to sell a nuclear deal at home, support from the conservative base will be much more important.

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