In August of 2008, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) commissioned Zogby International to conduct a national public opinion survey of American perceptions of Iranian Americans, Iranians, and Iran. The purpose of this unprecedented survey is to gather accurate and timely information about how the American public at large perceives Iranian Americans, facilitating a better understanding of the Iranian American community’s standing in American society. The margin of error for the results of this survey is +/- 3.2 percentage points.
The results of this PAAIA/Zogby survey indicate that about half of all Americans have a favorable impression of Iranian Americans, as well as the Iranian people. On the other hand, about one-eighth of all Americans have an unfavorable impression of Iranian Americans and the Iranian people. Significantly, however, about one-third of Americans are not familiar with either Iranian Americans or the Iranian people. The similarity of the American public’s overall impressions of Iranian Americans and the Iranian people perhaps indicates that such impressions are in large part formed by media reports on Iran.
In contrast to generally favorable impressions of Iranian Americans and the Iranian people, two-thirds of Americans have an unfavorable impression of the Iranian Government. Interestingly, fewer Americans indicate that they are unfamiliar with the Iranian government than they are with the Iranian people or Iranian Americans, perhaps underscoring the point made earlier that American perceptions of Iran, Iranians and Iranian Americans are mostly formed by media reports on Iran that are for the most part focused on the political situation there and the state of relations between the two countries.
Four of every ten Americans indicate that their opinion of Iran has gotten worse in the past five years. In contrast, only one-tenth of Americans have a worse impression of Iranian Americans than they did five years ago. On the other hand, the opinion of only one-in-ten Americans towards Iranians and Iranian Americans has improved during this time period.
Two-thirds of Americans do not personally know any Iranian Americans, and one-in-three have never had contact with an Iranian American. However, of those Americans who have had a business, professional or social relationship with an Iranian American, about nine out of ten surveyed had a generally favorable impression of that experience.
Six of every ten Americans believe Iranian Americans generally share the same values as most Americans, while a near equal number also believe the current government of Iran does not represent the values and views of a majority of Iranian Americans. Furthermore, four of five Americans say they are not suspicious of Iranian Americans because of their national origin, with two-thirds considering them to be Americans as opposed to Iranians. If, however, there were a military confrontation between the United States and Iran, that number would drop considerably to fifty-eight percent.
Even though half of all Americans view Iran as a threat, a significant majority of more than sixty percent (60%) oppose military options in dealing with Iran. Moreover, nearly half of all Americans believe diplomatic negotiations would be the foreign policy approach towards Iran that would be in the best interests of the United States.
More than half of all Americans believe Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear technology. Moreover, two-thirds of those surveyed believe diplomacy can dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons, whereas slightly more than one-third believe economic sanctions could achieve the same objective.