Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty of Terror Free Tomorrow wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that has attracted a lot of attention. They report that the claim of very substantial electoral support for Ahmadinejad is not as far-fetched as it might appear. They cite their own public opinion survey showing him leading by more than a 2-1 margin.
This polling, which is done by long distance telephone is an immense service to our understanding of long-term trends in Iran. As it turns out, people in Iran are remarkably willing to discuss even sensitive political issues over the phone.
My colleague Juan Cole has provided an analysis of their very important survey, showing that the numbers they collected were extemely soft since more than a quarter of the respondents said they were undecided, and a large majority of those said they favored reform. 52 percent of those surveyed either had no opinion or refused to answer.
The other crucial fact is that the survey was done on May 11-20 and the election was on June 12. When they started the survey, former president Khatami was a candidate. He withdrew on May 17 in favor of Mir Hossein Musavi, who had just announced his candidacy just a week earlier.
So during the period of the phone survey, Mousavi was a newly declared candidate. His “green wave,” that inspired so much excitement among Iranian voters had not even been invented.
The Iranian campaign period mercifully lasts less than a month. A poll at the beginning of that period, while no doubt accurate when taken, ignores everything that happened thereafter. A poll taken among US voters in the week when Barack Obama first declared his candidacy would have showed him far behind Hillary Clinton.
There is no doubt that Ahmadinejad has substantial support among some constituencies in Iran. But campaigns matter. The Ballen/Doherty poll was no doubt accurate when taken, but it cannot reflect all the green ribbons and massive rallies for Mousavi that had not yet happened.
5 years ago
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