Poll: What Iranians Think of Americans

What do Iranians really think about the United States, the Iraq War and Iran's nuclear program? Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, offers an answer based on a poll taken in Iran.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Iranians read all this news and they make their own opinions. A global survey group at the University of Maryland worldpublicopinion.org polled more than 700 people in Iran earlier this year with interesting results. Steven Kull is director of the WorldPublicOpinion.org. Steven, welcome to Day to Day.

Dr. STEVEN KULL (Director, WorldPublicOpinion.org): Thank you very much.

CHADWICK: This isn't your first opinion poll in Iran. You've tested public opinion there earlier. What changes do you find about how Iranians feel about themselves and about the United States?

Dr. KULL: Views of the United States are still quite negative. One of the most striking things that I found in both the poll and in the focus groups is a perception on the part of Iranians that the United States has extraordinary power over all kinds of things in the world. Large majority of the Iranians in the polls said that the United States controls most of the important things that happen in the world. And when I probed about this they even said in the focus groups that the United States controls Al-Jazeera, that the United States controls al-Qaeda.

CHADWICK: Al-Jazeera, the Arab news channel based in Qatar, and al-Qaeda, the sworn enemy of the United States? These are controlled by the U.S.?

Dr. KULL: It goes together with the sense that America is - has this extraordinary power, and that it manipulates things from behind the scenes. But we see some signs of a thawing. While in December 2006, 76 percent had a negative or unfavorable view. This dropped down six points, but most importantly two-thirds had a very unfavorable view, and that's dropped to just half.

CHADWICK: I've asked you how Iranians feel about the U.S. because that's a big question for us, but how do they feel about their own government? How do they feel about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of Iran who is such a controversial figure here and really around the world?

Dr. KULL: Overall, they expressed a kind of positive view, and when I was in Teheran I did focus groups there talking to people. People do express that point of view. It's important to remember that they have somewhat tense relations with the Sunni Arab world as well as the United States. So, they feel somewhat isolated and surrounded and this creates a sense of being threatened and that's one of the reasons they pull very close to each other and pull close to their government.

CHADWICK: And I wonder within these focus groups where they see that you're there, how is it for you?

Dr. KULL: What's striking to me is that the - you get a different kind of nuance by doing focus groups because in the poll you just get a lot of, mostly a lot of negativity, except toward the American people. There actually 51 percent of Iranians say they like American people and that comes through when you meet them. They do immediately express frustration with America, but you can feel underneath it a real longing to have better relations and an appreciation that you're there and listening to them. So, by the end, they are actually projecting a real sense of warmth.

CHADWICK: How do they feel about nuclear power and nuclear weapons, because this is the big issue between the two countries? It's at least the one that seems to have the most potential to really turn things in a bad way.

Dr. KULL: Iranians have rather strong feelings about this issue. Eight in ten are very determined that Iran should have the capacity to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel that could be used for nuclear energy. They support the idea that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons. They support the non-proliferation treaty and interestingly (unintelligible) say that developing nuclear weapons would be contrary to Islam.

CHADWICK: Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, which sampled public opinion in Iran in the early part of this year. Steven, thank you.

Dr. KULL: You're welcome.

CHADWICK: To see Iranians' response to questions about the nuclear issue and the Iraq war go to our website, npr.org/daytoday, where you can find a link to the poll.

And NPR's Day to Day continues.

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