July 31, 2013, Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Congress is deliberating legislation which would expand and tighten existing sanctions against Iran. On July 31, 2013, H.R.850, a major bill which, among other things, aims to further reduce Iran’s oil exports, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 400 to 20, and has now been submitted for consideration in the Senate. Other sanctions legislation is under consideration as well. Given that Iranian Americans have close ties to the people of Iran and that sanctions disproportionally affect the population, what are their views on this issue?
In April 2013, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) released the findings of its 2013 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans. What do the survey results tell us, if anything, about the significance and importance of sanctions in the thinking of the Iranian American community?
Notably, the survey results indicate that Iranian Americans support neither the removal of nor the tightening of sanctions. In one question, respondents were asked to select the two most important issues relating to U.S.-Iran relations. Ten percent (10%) selected lifting U.S. restrictions on the ability of individuals to send to and/or bring money from Iran. The most popular choice was the promotion of human rights and democracy at fifty-six percent (56%). When asked to choose from a list of foreign policy approaches that would be in the best interest of the United States, only five percent (5%) chose tightening sanctions while twelve percent (12%) chose the removal of sanctions. In contrast, forty-two percent (42%) believed that either the promotion of regime change or the promotion of human rights and democracy would be in America’s best interest, while thirty-five percent (35%) cited diplomatic negotiations or establishing diplomatic relations.
The 2013 survey results, as well as trend data from previous PAAIA surveys, suggest that Iranian Americans are not overly preoccupied with U.S. sanctions against Iran. On the contrary, their number one issue is the promotion of human rights and democracy. The lack of support for–or opposition to–sanctions suggests that the issue dovetails with the goals of changing Iran –namely through the promotion of human rights and democracy, regime change, or diplomacy.
When asked about the president’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program, a solid majority of fifty-nine percent (59%) said they approved, indicating support for the administration’s strategy of using sanctions coupled with diplomacy in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. More than two-thirds (sixty-eight percent) say that they would support the removal of sanctions if the Iranian regime reached an agreement with the U.S. and the international community concerning its nuclear program.
A large minority of Iranian Americans polled (thirty-nine percent) said that the sanctions against Iran have had an impact on them and/or their family members living in the U.S., although a substantial majority (fifty-eight percent) said that they have not. When the survey asked what the two most important activities an Iranian American organization could undertake, sixteen percent (16%) of those polled chose managing the impact of sanctions on the Iranian American community, while forty-four percent (44%) chose promoting democracy and human rights in Iran. The results appear to indicate that sanctions dovetail with what Iranian Americans personally care about—democracy and human rights in Iran.
While this survey was conducted before the 2013 Iranian presidential election, the results suggest that most Iranian Americans are not in favor of the imposition of new sanctions on Iran at the present time. PAAIA’s poll results suggest that as an issue, sanctions against Iran dovetail with broader policy considerations and a desire for change in Iran. While there is little support for further tightening of sanctions as a general policy, there is support for sanctions when it comes to thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.
PAAIA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonreligious membership organization that serves the domestic interests of Iranian Americans and represents the community before U.S. policymakers and the American public at large. PAAIA works to foster greater understanding of our community and its cultural heritage and to expand opportunities for the active participation of Iranian Americans in the democratic process at all levels of government.
PAAIA has gathered accurate demographic and attitudinal information about the Iranian American community by conducting five scientific public opinion surveys of Iranian Americans. The most recent survey was conducted by George Mason University in February of 2013. The survey’s margin of error is +/- 5% margin of error, consistent with previous surveys.