A majority of Iranians now favor possessing nuclear weapons. Their leaders take note

A majority of Iranians now favor possessing nuclear weapons. Their leaders take note

Peyman Asadzade writes:

Iran is currently in a state of nuclear latency; it possesses the necessary materials to develop nuclear weapons should it decide to proceed. However, Iranian leaders have consistently stated that the country has no such intentions. Historically, public opinion polls since the mid-2000s have consistently demonstrated that while Iranians favored a peaceful nuclear program, a majority of them opposed developing nuclear weapons.

A recent survey, however, suggests that Iranian citizens are growing more receptive to nuclear weapons.

The survey, conducted between February 20 and May 26, was designed and carried out by the author in collaboration with the Toronto-based company, IranPoll. It used an online panel of 2,280 Iranian citizens that closely reflects the demographic structure of the national population, with targeted quotas across region, age, income, and gender.

The survey included two questions about Iran’s nuclear program. First, to what extent participants agreed or disagreed with the statement that “Iran should be able to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” to which they were provided with four options: “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “somewhat disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” An overwhelming majority of respondents (92 percent) either strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, aligning with previous surveys about support for Iran’s civilian nuclear program—87 percent agreed with this statement in a 2011 survey, and a similar number (90 percent) agreed in 2020.

Respondents were then asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement that “Iran should possess nuclear weapons” and were given the same response options. Over 69 percent of them responded they support Iran pursuing nuclear weapons. This marks a departure from earlier opinion polls in which most Iranians consistently rejected the weaponization of the country’s nuclear program. It also stands in stark contrast to the stance of Iran’s elite, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwa (a legal ruling on a point of Islamic law) against the development and use of nuclear weapons.

This shift in the opinion of Iranians vis-à-vis nuclear weapons cannot be entirely divorced from recent events in the Iran-Israel conflict, which included an Israeli air strike of an Iranian consulate in Syria on April 1 and direct Iranian drone and missile strikes against Israel in response on April 13. However, while the survey results suggest some influence from these events, the impact seems limited: Average support for nuclear weapons already stood at 67 percent prior to the April 1 attack and increased to 71 percent after the attack—a moderate increase of four percentage points. However, a more significant shift emerged from the survey when focusing on the stronger opinions. The percentage of respondents who “strongly agree” with the possession of nuclear weapons increased from 40 percent before April 1 to 48 percent afterward. (In contrast, those who “somewhat agree” decreased from 27 percent to 23 percent, before and after April 1, respectively.) This suggests a potential hardening of attitudes among a key segment of the Iranian population because of the recent military confrontations. [Continue reading…]

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