On December 28, 2017, protests broke out in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city. Spurred on, according to initial reporting, by the inflationary price of goods, within days the protests spread to dozens of cities and towns throughout the country. As the protests increased, so did the nature of complaints with the issue of political leadership eventually vying with economic hardships as the source of protesters’ ire.
Main Survey Findings
On January 9, 2018, in an attempt to examine root causes and potential outcomes of the unrest, Movements.org (a division of Democracy Council), in coordination with Balatarin.com, launched an online survey targeting Iranian users of a number of popular independent news and information outlets, and communications platforms. In total, 2,307 in-country surveys have been completed with approximately half of the responses received January 10-11 just as initial protests weakened.
Survey respondents are overwhelmingly male (88%), college educated (75% with a BA or higher) and urban (97% self-identified as inhabitants of Iranian cities, large and small). Approximately half fall into the 25-40 year-old age bracket with an additional one-third 40-55 years of age. While this demographic may not accurately reflect the total Iranian population, it is one that has been a driving force behind political protest and civic activism in the broader region. Correspondingly, 37 percent of respondents report knowing someone who took part in recent unrest.
Overall, survey respondents are negative about the current direction of the country (89%) and pessimistic about the future (72%). On a daily basis, the majority (60%) is focused on quality of life issues (employment, prices, housing), with an additional 20 percent claiming citizens’ rights as their top priority. Among respondents, there are distinctions between income and daily priorities with those enjoying incomes above 5 million Tomans (approx. $1500) per month, the highest income bracket in the survey, slightly more inclined than the total to cite citizens’ rights as their top priority at 35 percent.
In terms of national priorities, 38 percent cite economic development as the country’s top need, followed by political reform at 23 percent. Again, as with daily concerns, differences emerge among income groups with those in the upper bracket of respondents placing political reform (31 percent) above economic development (23 percent).
As the primary causes of recent unrest, respondents evenly cite two factors: the economy (48%) and corruption (48%) with 96 percent describing protester grievances as legitimate. In contrast to an Iranian Interior Ministry report issued on January 23, which includes “foreign provocations” to its list of identified causes, only three percent of survey respondents believe this to be the case.
Although the current phase of protests appeared to be winding down at the time of the survey, half of all respondents predict they will continue with a quarter saying it is still too early to tell. 33 percent predict further arrests and detentions.