Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Are Iranians Yearning for "Freedom"?

Please note before reading this! I've decided once and for all to test the hypothesis that people in repressive countries are significantly less likely of expressing critical views of their governments when taking surveys.  Take China, for instance.  By most measures, it's a highly repressive country, and yet a seemingly unrealistic 97% of the population have "quite a lot" or a "great deal" of confidence in their government.  

Overall, however, I've long been skeptical of this claim, given the anonymity of the surveys and the option of not answering uncomfortable questions (I assumed that respondents aren't nearly as paranoid as we imagine them to be).  Nevertheless, my conscience won't allow me to leave this post without this preface - the last thing I wish to do is to mislead readers.  I'll report my results as soon as I complete my study (who knows when that'll be?).  With that said...

In the event of a military strike against Iran aimed at toppling the theocratic regime, its backers will likely promote it under the pretense of bringing “democracy” to the country. And I’ve long assumed that Iranians would ecstatically welcome such change. Through exposure to mainstream media coverage, as well as personal discussions with Iranians living in the diaspora, I came to believe that Iranians are yearning for such “freedom". Then, I looked at public opinion data…

After analyzing results from two surveys conducted in Iran by the Western-based global research project, the World Values Survey, I’ve concluded that Iranians are more content with their political system than we’ve been led to believe. Indeed, in some respects, Iranians appear to be more satisfied than their American counterparts. The table below shows that while Americans have expressed greater confidence in their police and judiciary, Iranians have been more confident in their legislature and government.

Does this mean that our own regime here in the States is at an even greater risk of collapse than Iran’s? On which country should we count to liberate us?

More recently, the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) analyzed multiple polls conducted around the time of the controversial 2009 Iranian presidential election. It reported that “large majorities [said] they are satisfied with the current system, and the system by which authorities are elected” (see the graph below).

As in the World Values Surveys, Iranians were also asked about their confidence in various political institutions. While the results below aren't directly comparable to those displayed above, they do reinforce the sense that "regime change" is not in high demand in Iran.

In short, any country contemplating war against Iran should not be awfully surprised if it encounters stiff resistance to its brand of “freedom”. Let’s admit the very real possibility that Iran’s theocratic regime is not nearly as unstable as we’ve imagined it to be, and design our policies accordingly.