A photo of six Iranian presidential hopefuls

Survey Reveals Massive Disinterest in Iranian Presidential Debates

Thursday, 06/20/2024

A survey conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) reveals a significant lack of interest among the electorate, with 73% of respondents indicating they did not watch the first presidential debate on June 17.

This lack of engagement is alarming as Iran prepares to elect a new president following the unexpected death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month.

The survey, which involved face-to-face interviews with 4,545 citizens on June 18 and 19, shows just 26.8% of the population watched the televised debate, focusing on the pressing economic issues facing the nation.

Moreover, the ISPA's findings reveal a broader trend of apathy towards election news, with 35% of respondents indicating they do not follow election news at all, and others only minimally engaged.

A group of Iranians watching the first presidential debate on June 17, 2024

The disengagement comes amid calls for an election boycott. Many citizens, as well as various political and civil society groups, have expressed discontent with the Islamic Republic's track record on human rights and democratic governance. The pressure for boycotting the election is compounded by the Iranian government's repressive measures against free speech and the dissemination of independent survey results.

Authorities have previously issued threats against those releasing or publishing survey data that portrays the government negatively, warning of legal repercussions and potentially criminal charges.

Participation in elections plummeted in the 2020 parliamentary race when hundreds of regime insiders deemed too moderate were banned from competing. As a result, hardliners swept the majority of seats amid a voter turnout of less than 50%.

The same scenario repeated itself in the 2021 presidential election and the March 2024 parliamentary election, where many serious candidates were disqualified by the 12-member unelected Guardian Council. In both elections, voter turnout was well below 50%. In the current election also, six hand-picked candidates were allowed to compete.

Meanwhile, the government continued to use lethal force against protesters and harsh measures against dissidents. This suppression reflects deeper systemic issues within the Iranian political landscape, as highlighted by prominent Iranian sociopolitical analyst Abbas Abdi. In a recent critique titled "A Point with the Government," Abdi articulated the consequences of the government's policy of uniformity, which he argues has led to a reduction in political participation.

Political activists and commentator Abbas Abdi

According to Abdi, when participation rates in areas like Tehran drop to around 10% or less, it is a clear sign of a legitimacy crisis within the political system. He noted that while some electoral districts may see higher turnout due to ethnic, tribal, linguistic, or religious factors, the overall low participation is a warning sign and a "trumpet of doom" for Iranian politics under the rule of the current ruling system.

“I'm not saying that participation in Tehran should be 80%, but participation under 50% is a warning sign. When it drops below 10%, it is a siren call and even the trumpet of doom for politics.”

Abdi further argued that the distrust in the government leads to diminished efficiency and a lack of public willingness to engage in the political process. He criticized the current administration for its apparent incompetence in addressing and understanding societal issues, describing it as "idealess, without vision, and disappointing."

An Iranian woman checks the names of candidates during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, March 1, 2024.

The implications of such widespread disaffection are profound. As Abdi points out, the distancing of the people from the government has become so significant that bridging such a gap poses not only a logistical challenge but also an emotional and psychological burden on the populace.

As Iran heads towards its contentious election on June 28, the environment is marked by skepticism and a crisis of legitimacy. The last parliamentary elections in March, which saw a low turnout with just about 8% participation in Tehran during the second round, underscore the growing chasm between the government and its citizens.

More News