Poll Indicating Legitimacy of Ahmadinejad's Victory Called into Question
17 Jun 2009 23:35
*Analysis by Sharif University alum
[TEHRAN BUREAU] The only major doubt in the western media over significant fraud in Iran's presidential election came with the publication of a poll conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, a non-profit group. The poll's findings, which had put Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comfortably ahead of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, were interpreted by some western commentators as an indication that Ahmadinejad's "victory" may have been legitimate.
In fact the poll, while it had interesting findings on public opinion, cannot be taken as a prediction of the election result and indeed was not presented in this way by its organizers Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty. Several limitations regarding the survey's methodology have been discussed in the last few days. Notably, it was conducted before the election season even started in Iran. Interviews began on May 11th, a month before the election, and ended on May 20th. Although public opinion in western elections is generally set by such a late stage, a month is a long enough period for a drastic shift in the popularity of candidates in Iran. With the absence of solid political parties and government control of public media, the election season is very short and limited to the few weeks before the election.
The Guardian Council didn't finalize the list of four eligible candidates -- among the 475 that registered three weeks earlier -- until May 19th. Although the potential candidates were more or less apparent before then, many doubts over the final list still existed until the official registration and the following qualifying process finally ended. At the reformists' camp, the extremely popular former president, Mohammad Khatami -- who officially announced his candidacy for president in February -- didn't withdraw from the race until March 16th, when he threw his support behind Mousavi. This started a few weeks of confusion among the reformists, who were faced with a less obvious choice between the other two candidates, Mousavi and Karoubi.
The other party was even less clear on its choice before the official registration in early May with several names coming up as potential choices including Bagher Ghalibaf, the moderate and somewhat popular mayor of Tehran, and Larijani the speaker of the parliament, both representing critiques of Ahmadinejad. Moreover, many worried that the reformist candidates might be disqualified by the Guardian Council, especially after the council delayed the announcement of the results for a week. In fact, Akbar Alami, a former parliament representative from Tabriz and a radical reformist candidate with a strong support in Mousavi's home province of Azarbaijan, was banned from the competition on May 19th.
Campaign season officially started on May 20th. The most pivotal part of the campaign is the broadcast time assigned to each candidate on a daily basis on the national television and radio, the only available broadcast channels in the country. With the head of the national broadcast a close ally of Ahmadinejad, the incumbent enjoyed several months of public TV primetime programs prior to the election describing the achievements of his presidency in the economy, foreign policy, science and technology. Facing little challenge and in the absence of any fact check procedure, this propaganda included numerous misleading statistics comparing his term on various accounts to that of the first 26 years of the Islamic Republic life, all suggesting a leap forward as a result of his leadership.
The other three candidates, on the other hand, started appearing on national channels only once the official campaign began. Mousavi appeared on national television for the first time after a twenty-year absense, on May 22nd. Although a prime minister in the 80's, the majority of the Iranian population -- with 70% under 30 years old -- had little memory of Mousavi before seeing him on television for the first time. In a series of speeches and interviews, the three rivals of Ahmadinejad challenged the claims of his government on the economy and foreign policy, presenting different statistics against his, many of them based on the official numbers announced by the central bank and international organizations.
Mousavi especially shifted the momentum in his favor during a televised debate with Ahmadinejad on June 3, where he challenged and debunked some of Ahmadinejad's major claims of achievement. Soon after this debate, Mousavi began drawing crowds of steadily growing supporters for the first time. Karoubi and even Rezaie, the conservative candidate, adopted the same theme in their debates against Ahmadinejad, further debunking the shaky basis of his claims with the majority of the public. In fact, starting with the Mousavi-Ahmadinejad debate, the last ten days should be considered the most crucial segment of the campaign season during which the majority of undecided voters made up their minds and a general mistrust toward Ahmadinejad and his claims evolved.
Although several polling results were published in the country, they were mainly meant to serve as propaganda for supporters of specific candidates and have small correlation with reality. In this situation, finding a reliable poll to compare with Ballen and Doherty's result is difficult. One poll that can be a good source of comparison due to its similar methodology is the one conducted by the "Ray-e Mellat" organization between May 6th and June 3rd based on random phone interviews in the city of Tehran on a weekly basis. Even without covering the crucial last ten days before the election, this poll clearly shows the trend in favor of Mousavi after the official start of the campaign season. In fact, with an almost equal share of votes between the two candidates in mid-May, the period when Ballen and Doherty's poll were conducted, Mousavi gained a 17 percent lead over Ahmadinejad by June 3.
One could expect the trend to continue on the next following days even more notably after the controversial debate on the evening of June 3. Karoubi, the other reformist candidate, also doubled the number of his supporters in the same period according to this poll.
The poll data is available for all the 22 areas of the city of Tehran and the same trend is seen for all the areas. By June 3, Mousavi had a lead of more than 80% in the northern part of the city that represents the upper- and middle-class of the country while being behind by a couple of points in the southern part that represents the working class.
Furthermore, the results of the Ballen and Doherty poll show more than half of the sample indicated an undecided vote, illustrating that the people lacked trust in a phone interview conducted by an international organization. That, combined with the relatively short time period of the poll suggests its irrelevancy.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau