Even Before Dispute, Iranians Split on Honesty of Elections

by Julie Ray

Urban Iranians far less likely than rural Iranians to express trust

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Gallup Poll conducted in Iran in 2008 found citizens divided on the honesty of their country's elections before last week's controversial presidential election: 50% of Iranians surveyed in May 2008, shortly after last year's parliamentary elections, said they were confident in their elections, while 40% said they were not.


Gallup's survey reveals striking differences in the faith that urban Iranians and rural Iranians placed in elections. Following the election in 2008, rural Iranians (66%) were nearly twice as likely as urban residents (36%) to express confidence in their elections.

Young Iranians -- who make up the lion's share of Iran's population and of those protesting the outcome of the recent election -- are less likely than older Iranians to express confidence in their elections. Forty-three percent of Iranians aged 15 to 29 said in 2008 that they had confidence, versus 56% of Iranians aged 30 and older who said the same.


Confidence in Elections Across the Globe

While just 50% of Iranians surveyed last year said they were confident in their country's elections, Iranians' confidence compared favorably with results from other countries in many parts of the world. In fact, Americans surveyed as part of the World Poll before the November 2008 U.S. presidential election were essentially as likely as Iranians to say they were confident in their country's elections (47% vs. 50%). Further, the percentage of Iranians who expressed confidence was actually higher than the 41% median confidence across more than 140 countries where this question was asked between 2006 and 2009.


Iranians' confidence compared positively with other views in the Middle East and North Africa, where the regional median for confidence in elections is 45%. Within the region, Iranians were more likely than Moroccans (20%), Iraqis (25%), Egyptians (28%), Israelis (32%), Algerians (35%), Lebanese (39%), and Yemenis (43%) to say they are confident. Iranians' confidence was more similar to that of Saudis' (49%), Palestinians' (47%), and Turks' (47%).

Compared with populations outside the Middle East and North Africa, Iranians expressed more confidence than did residents in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Americas. However, Iranians were less likely than residents in many European and Asian countries to express confidence in their respective countries' elections.

Bottom Line

Gallup Polls reveal that Iranians were divided on the honesty of their elections before the country's current crisis. That said, Iranians turned out in record number to cast their votes on Election Day. For some urban and young Iranians who were already disillusioned, the country's recent elections may have been the last straw. After the protests end, Iran may still have the same leadership, but that leadership will likely have to work even harder to build trust and engagement within the electorate.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,040 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted April 30 to May 31, 2008, in Iran. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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