Released: June 17, 2010
Iran and Its Nuclear Weapons Program
Views of Iran remain negative across much of the world. Majorities or pluralities in 18 of 22 countries surveyed, including in many predominantly Muslim nations, express unfavorable opinions about the Islamic Republic. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receives mixed reviews in Muslim countries. Majorities in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey lack confidence in Ahmadinejad to do the right thing in world affairs; opinions of him are, on balance, positive in Indonesia and Pakistan.
Opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program is widespread, and many in Iran’s backyard express concern that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a serious threat to their nations. In nearly every country surveyed, those who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons say they would approve of tougher international economic sanctions to try to prevent Iran from developing such weapons. Opponents of Iran’s nuclear weapons program are less willing to consider military force as an option in dealing with the issue. Still, in 16 of 22 countries, among those who oppose a nuclear-armed Iran, more say they might back military action than reject that possibility.
Iran Image Largely NegativeMore than eight-in-ten in Germany (86%) and France (81%) view Iran unfavorably, as do 73% in Spain; a somewhat smaller majority in Britain (58%) shares this opinion. Majorities in the Asian countries surveyed, with the exception of the largely Muslim countries of Pakistan and Indonesia, also express negative views of the Islamic Republic; three-quarters in Japan, 60% in China and 55% in both South Korea and India give Iran an unfavorable rating.
More than six-in-ten in Brazil (65%) and Poland (62%) express negative views of Iran, as does a slim 51%-majority in Argentina (only 13% have a favorable view and 36% do not offer an opinion). Views are more divided in Russia; a 45% plurality rates Iran unfavorably while 36% give it positive ratings.
Iran receives low marks in four of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. More than six-in-ten Egyptians (66%) and Jordanians (63%) have an unfavorable opinion of Iran; 60% in Lebanon and about the same share in Turkey (58%) also express negative views. Pakistanis and Indonesians, on the other hand, offer positive opinions. About seven-in-ten (72%) in Pakistan have a favorable view of Iran; just 9% have an unfavorable view. In Indonesia, 62% give Iran positive rating, while about a quarter (26%) express negative views. Nearly as many Nigerians rate Iran unfavorably (41%) as rate it favorably (44%).
In Nigeria and Lebanon, opinions of Iran are divided along religious and sectarian lines. Nigerian Muslims are about twice as likely to offer positive views (62%) as they are to offer negative views of Iran (29%). In contrast, the balance of opinion is unfavorable among Nigerian Christians – half give the Islamic Republic a negative rating and just 29% give it a positive review.
Opinions of Iran are even more negative among Christians in Lebanon; 83% have unfavorable views. Overall views are more divided among Muslims in that country (54% favorable and 46% unfavorable), but there are sharp differences in opinion between Lebanese Sunnis and Shia. More than eight-in-ten (83%) Sunni Muslims in Lebanon have a negative opinion of Iran, a largely Shia nation. In contrast, Lebanese Shia are nearly unanimous in their positive views of Iran; 95% give it a favorable rating.
Views of Iran’s LeaderPublics in countries with a large Muslim population express mixed opinions about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Majorities in Egypt (72%), Jordan (66%), Lebanon (63%) and Turkey (60%) lack confidence in the Iranian president to do the right thing regarding world affairs. In Indonesia, however, many more say they have at least some confidence in Ahmadinejad than say they do not (50% vs. 28%). Views of the Iranian leader are also, on balance, positive in Pakistan – 35% express confidence in him, while 21% do not – but fully 45% in that country do not offer an opinion. And in Nigeria, respondents are evenly split – 35% offer a positive rating and the same number offer a negative rating of Iran’s president.
As is the case with opinions about Iran, views of its leader in Lebanon and Nigeria reflect religious and sectarian divides. In Lebanon, overwhelming majorities of Christians and Sunnis express little or no confidence in Ahmadinejad to do the right thing in world affairs (86% and 88%, respectively); in contrast, nearly all Shia Muslims (93%) say they have confidence in the Iranian president. Among Nigerians, about twice as many Christians lack confidence in Ahmadinejad as express confidence in him (42% vs. 20%). Nigerian Muslims, on the other hand, are about twice as likely to say they have confidence in Iran’s leader as they are to say they do not (51% vs. 25%).
Opposition to Iran’s Nuclear Weapons ProgramMajorities in nearly every country surveyed oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. At least nine-in-ten in Britain (90%), Germany (98%), France (95%) and Spain (94%) share this view. Opposition to Iran’s nuclear program is similarly strong in Japan (96%) and the United States (94%).
More than eight-in-ten in Poland (87%), South Korea (87%), Mexico (86%), Argentina (86%), Brazil (85%) and Russia (81%) also oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Smaller but substantial majorities in China (65%), Kenya (61%) and Nigeria (58%) express opposition to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. Nigerian views are divided along religious lines. About three-quarters (74%) of Nigerian Christians oppose a nuclear-armed Iran, while just 17% support it; among Nigerian Muslims, however, more favor than oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program (48% vs. 41%).
Resistance to a nuclear-armed Iran is less pronounced in India. Nearly half (48%) of Indians oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program, while 33% favor it. In 2007, the last time this question was asked in India, about two-thirds (66%) in that country expressed opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran; 21% expressed support. In no other country have opinions of Iran’s nuclear weapons program changed so significantly.
Publics in almost all of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed are opposed to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, including at least six-in-ten in Egypt (66%), Lebanon (64%), Turkey (63%) and Indonesia (60%). A narrower majority in Jordan (53%) shares this view. Still, substantial minorities in these countries say they would favor a nuclear-armed Iran, including nearly four-in-ten (39%) Jordanians.
Of the 22 countries surveyed, only in Pakistan is there widespread support for Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. About six-in-ten Pakistanis (58%) favor and just 10% oppose Iran acquiring such weapons. Support for a nuclear-armed Iran is even stronger among Lebanon’s Shia population – 91% would favor it – but overwhelming majorities of Christians (88%) and Sunnis (88%) in that country would oppose it.
Does a Nuclear-Armed Iran Pose a Threat?While there is clear opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program in many of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, opinions about whether such weapons would pose a direct threat to these countries are more mixed. Concerns are greatest in Lebanon, where 57%, including solid majorities of Christians (82%) and Sunni Muslims (76%), say Iran would pose a serious threat to their country if it acquired nuclear weapons. Lebanon’s Shia population offers a much different view, however; almost all (95%) say a nuclear-armed Iran would pose, at worst, a minor threat to their country.
Slim majorities in Indonesia (53%) and Egypt (52%) believe that Iran would pose a serious threat to their countries if it obtained nuclear weapons; about half (49%) of Turks share this concern. In contrast, nearly six-in-ten Jordanians (58%) and about the same percentage in Pakistan (56%) do not see a nuclear-armed Iran as a potential threat.
In Nigeria, where the population is split roughly evenly between Muslims and Christians, opinions about a potential threat from Iran vary along religious lines. Overall, 63% of Nigerians say that Iran would pose a serious threat to their country if it acquired nuclear weapons. There is clear concern among Nigerian Christians – 81% see Iran’s nuclear weapons program as a threat to their countries. Muslims are divided – 45% say Iran would pose a serious threat to Nigeria if it obtained nuclear weapons and about the same number (46%) say Iran would not pose much of a threat to their country.
Support for Economic SanctionsIn 19 of 22 countries, majorities of those who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program say they would approve of tougher international economic sanctions on Iran to try to prevent it from developing such weapons. Support for tighter economic sanctions is especially prevalent in the U.S. (85% approve), but an overwhelming percentage of those who are opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran in the Western European countries surveyed also share this view. At least three-quarters in Spain (79%), Germany (77%), Britain (78%) and France (76%) endorse economic sanctions.
Two-thirds of Russians who would not like to see Iran acquire nuclear weapons say they would favor tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic, as do 72% in Poland. Support for stricter economic sanctions is also widespread in Kenya (65% approve) and Nigeria (78%) among those who oppose Iran’s nuclear program. Nigerian Christians are more likely than Muslims in that country to approve of tougher sanctions, but majorities in both groups share this view (83% and 69%, respectively).
In Latin America, majorities of those who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program in the three countries surveyed approve of the use of tougher economic sanctions. About seven-in-ten (71%) Mexicans express that opinion, as do 65% of Brazilians and 57% of Argentines.
Support for tighter economic sanctions against Iran is also evident among those who oppose a nuclear-armed Tehran in most of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. About seven-in-ten (72%) Egyptians approve of tougher economic sanctions; the same percentage in Lebanon shares this view, including 82% of Christians and 65% of Sunni Muslims (the number of Shia Muslims who were asked this question is too small to analyze because support for Iran’s nuclear weapons program among that group is nearly universal). Six-in-ten Indonesians and a slightly higher percentage of Jordanians (66%) who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are in favor of tougher economic sanctions to try to prevent it from happening.
Turks who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program are divided on the issue of tougher international economic sanctions – 44% favor them as a way to try to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while 40% oppose them. Among the small minority of Pakistanis who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program, few support increased economic sanctions on Iran; just 19% of those who oppose a nuclear-armed Iran favor the use of tougher sanctions, while 62% oppose it.
Opinions are somewhat more mixed across the Asian countries surveyed. About three-quarters (76%) of South Koreans who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program would like to see tougher economic sanctions; 66% in Japan say the same. In China, 58% of those who oppose a nuclear-armed Iran approve of increased sanctions; about one-third (32%) disapprove. And Indians are nearly evenly split – 46% favor tougher economic sanctions to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and just slightly more (49%) oppose it.
Mixed Views of Military OptionWhile support for military action against Iran is less widespread than support for tougher economic sanctions, majorities or pluralities of those who oppose a nuclear-armed Iran in 16 of 22 countries surveyed are willing to consider using military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Only in five countries do more among those who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program say that avoiding a military conflict with Iran, even if it means it may develop these weapons, should be the priority.
Americans are among the most supportive of a military option to deal with Iran; 66% of those who oppose a nuclear-armed Iran would consider the use of force. Only in Nigeria is there more support for this view (71%).
Western Europeans who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program express more mixed views regarding what should be the priority in dealing with the Islamic Republic. Close to six-in-ten (59%) in France would consider the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but a sizeable minority (41%) rejects this option.
About half in Germany (51%), Spain (50%) and Britain (48%) would support military efforts against Iran in order to stop its nuclear weapons program, but more than one-third in these countries (39%, 34% and 37%, respectively) say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it results in a nuclear-armed Tehran.
Majorities of those who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons in Egypt (55%) and Jordan (53%) and pluralities in Lebanon (44%) and Indonesia (39%) express support for the use of military force in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In Turkey, however, more say that avoiding a military conflict with Iran should be the priority; nearly four-in-ten (37%) take that position, while 29% would consider the use of military force against Iran.
Of the few Pakistanis who say they do not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran, about a third (34%) say avoiding a military conflict with Iran should be the priority; fewer (21%) say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action.
Most Japanese (55%) who oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons program say the priority should be to avoid a military conflict; 34% are willing to consider the use of military force. In China, 43% reject taking military action to deal with Iran, while 35% say preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is more important, even if military action is needed.
India is the only country surveyed where there is greater support for the use of military force than for tougher economic sanctions to try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons among those who oppose Iran obtaining such weapons. Just over half (52%) of Indians who would not like to see a nuclear-armed Tehran say it is more important to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action; 39% say avoiding a military conflict with Iran is more important.