Independent pre-election polling indicated wide margin of support for Ahmadinejad

Policy/think tank analysts Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty have written a piece for the WaPo suggesting that the election results from Iran perhaps really do reflect the will of the Iranian people:

The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin — greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election.

While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad’s principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran’s provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.

Independent and uncensored nationwide surveys of Iran are rare. Typically, preelection polls there are either conducted or monitored by the government and are notoriously untrustworthy. By contrast, the poll undertaken by our nonprofit organizations from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years. Conducted by telephone from a neighboring country, field work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award. Our polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The breadth of Ahmadinejad’s support was apparent in our preelection survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.


Some might argue that the professed support for Ahmadinejad we found simply reflected fearful respondents’ reluctance to provide honest answers to pollsters. Yet the integrity of our results is confirmed by the politically risky responses Iranians were willing to give to a host of questions. For instance, nearly four in five Iranians — including most Ahmadinejad supporters — said they wanted to change the political system to give them the right to elect Iran’s supreme leader, who is not currently subject to popular vote. Similarly, Iranians chose free elections and a free press as their most important priorities for their government, virtually tied with improving the national economy. These were hardly “politically correct” responses to voice publicly in a largely authoritarian society.

Indeed, and consistently among all three of our surveys over the past two years, more than 70 percent of Iranians also expressed support for providing full access to weapons inspectors and a guarantee that Iran will not develop or possess nuclear weapons, in return for outside aid and investment. And 77 percent of Iranians favored normal relations and trade with the United States, another result consistent with our previous findings.

Some are disputing those polling numbers. We’ll never know for sure one way or the other, of course, especially considering Iran’s election system is so different from ours. Having said that, the outcome is what it is, and it’s nothing that can be changed, even though the “Supreme Leader” of Iran has ordered an election fraud probe (which we know will be above board, considering he expressed his support for Ahmadinejad well before the election took place).

The WSJ urges the Obama administration to stand with the “change” movement in Iran, but they will have to walk a fine line between encouraging and fostering the attitudes of those desiring for change in Iran, and doing BAU with the Iranian government. It will be interesting to see if Obama’s views towards having a face to face unconditional meeting with Iran’s president has changed in light of the widespread belief that the election results were rigged. He was willing to meet with him even after the threats Ahmeanie made towards Israel – and even knowing that Iran has been aiding, funding, and training ‘insurgents’ in Iraq for years now. Threats against Jews and Americans meant little to Obama in terms of his willingness to meet with Iran’s president, but with so many believing that Iran’s president isn’t the legitimate president of Iran, will his views change? Will he care that he would give legitimacy to Ahmadinejad’s “win” if he met with him face to face – even after the violent suppression of the post-election protesters? He didn’t before, but I guess time will tell.

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