Report : Voter Behaviour and Political Mobilization in Iran

By: Kevan Harris and Daniel Tavana

Beginning on December 28, 2017, Iranian citizens assembled across the country, expressing long-simmering demands for political, social, and economic change. Many of these grievances are rooted not just in economic inequality and unmet social promises, but a more general frustration with political stagnation in the Islamic Republic.

Chants were heard against the government’s Principlist (conservative) predecessors, the current administration associated with President Hassan Rouhani, and even the Reformist opposition. As various factions in Iran’s political establishment jockey to respond to the country-wide protest wave, there is a palpable sense that the existing bargain driven by elite mobilization of citizen participation in electoral politics is no longer credible.

Circulated videos of rallies, online media sources, and domestic Iranian reports have proven useful for understanding these historic events. Given their limitations, however, these sources should be complemented with assessments of how Iranians respond from below in key moments of mobilization such as nation-wide elections. One such complement to existing reporting on Iran is survey research, where survey samples representing the entire population are contacted and interviewed.

In an effort to capture citizen behavior and attitudes towards presidential and parliamentary elections, political mobilization by candidate campaigns, and access to various news media, the Iran Social Survey (ISS) surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 5,000 Iranian residents after the 2016 Majles (parliamentary) and Assembly of Experts elections. ISS interviewers also asked respondents about civil society participation, household usage of state social services, self-identification across ethnic or language groups, and family demographics including parents and grandparents’ occupational histories.

The following brief highlights election-related findings relevant for understanding how citizens engage with the political process in Iran. We find low levels of identification with national-level political factions, considerable heterogeneity in citizen preferences for presidential and parliamentary candidates, and divergence in where citizens receive information about politics. We also find large differences in how candidates contact voters before election day. Additionally, individual-level data is made available on nationally-representative voting patterns based on socioeconomic status, age, gender, and education.

The Iran Social Survey was made possible with the help of the European Middle East Research Group, the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond), and the Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at Princeton University.

Link to full report: Voter Behaviour and Political Mobilization in Iran

Contact authors: Kevan Harris [kevanharris@ucla.edu] & Daniel Tavana [dtavana@princeton.edu]