Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thoughts on Iran Election

Iran scholars and analysts all know that predicting an Iranian election is a bad idea. Strange things can and do happen. Polls, media and even the assertions of people on the street may not be an accurate reflection of the results from the ballot box (assuming that they have not been tampered with). 

There have been several polls conducted for the election tomorrow with a variety of results. Some show the Tehran mayor Mohammad Qalibaf (the successor to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nezhad) with a sizable lead, while others show cleric Hassan Rouhani in the lead

The most "scientific" polling has been conducted by IPOS, a US based telephone survey company. Their polls, taken over a period of several days from 1067 Iranian residents show a trend towards Rouhani (possibly at the expense of reformist Mohammad-Reza Aref who withdrew and endorsed Rouhani), but also a high percentage of undecided voters (over 40% at last count). 

While reformists and moderates might look to Rouhani's perceived rising popularity as a sign of hope, I would urge caution. This poll is problematic for a variety of reasons. First, Iran is a very diverse country and obtaining a representative sample population is near impossible. Candidates often receive overwhelming support in their home province (another reason why the 2009 election was so suspicious is that Mousavi lost his home province in a landslide), and a sample size of only 1067 people is almost certainly less than representative. 

Another potential problem is the heightened security atmosphere in Iran. The authorities have taken significant steps to slow and filter internet access, and to filter certain text strings or phrases sent by SMS. It is not unreasonable to assume that Iranians believe that their telephone communications are insecure, may be recorded and are afraid to say something which can be used against them later. This fear may have an effect on the results of polling, as Iranians may be unwilling to share their opinions with a pollster who called them, especially from an American number. 

If the IPOS poll is to believed, the question is which way will the undecided voters turn? Of the 6 remaining candidates, 5 are conservative and one is considered to be a moderate. With so many conservatives to choose from, it is quite likely that many of these undecideds have yet to choose which conservative candidate they will be voting for? On the other hand it is also possible that the undecideds are torn between the moderate and the conservative group and the vote will be split along this line instead.

In either case I highly doubt that any one candidate will receive more than 50% of the votes in the first round (required to prevent a run-off). The run-off features the top 2 vote getters from round 1. To be guaranteed of a spot in the next round, 33.4% of the vote is required, although it is also possible in theory to receive as little as 10.1% of the vote and finish 2nd (if the top candidate receives 49.9% and the bottom 4 all receive 10%). In my estimation 25% should be enough to get to the 2nd round, though the weak polling numbers of Gharazi and the wild cards of Velayati (who was rumored to have withdrawn late last night) and Rezaei may change this. No matter what happens I am sure there will be some surprises.

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