What Happened in Iran?

As it turns out there was an independent nationwide poll taken in Iran three weeks before the election and the results of the poll were consistent with the election results. In their op-ed in the Washington Post Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, whose organizations produced the poll, conclude:

Allegations of fraud and electoral manipulation will serve to further isolate Iran and are likely to increase its belligerence and intransigence against the outside world. Before other countries, including the United States, jump to the conclusion that the Iranian presidential elections were fraudulent, with the grave consequences such charges could bring, they should consider all independent information. The fact may simply be that the reelection of President Ahmadinejad is what the Iranian people wanted.

Ballen and Doherty deal with the obvious criticism that respondents were only giving safe answers:

Some might argue that the professed support for Ahmadinejad we found simply reflected fearful respondents’ reluctance to provide honest answers to pollsters. Yet the integrity of our results is confirmed by the politically risky responses Iranians were willing to give to a host of questions. For instance, nearly four in five Iranians — including most Ahmadinejad supporters — said they wanted to change the political system to give them the right to elect Iran’s supreme leader, who is not currently subject to popular vote. Similarly, Iranians chose free elections and a free press as their most important priorities for their government, virtually tied with improving the national economy. These were hardly “politically correct” responses to voice publicly in a largely authoritarian society.

At this point this is my understanding of the facts as we know them. According to the official results, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by a substantial margin. Those results are consistent with the findings of an independent nationwide poll taken three weeks before the election. Preliminary statistical analyses of the results do not satisfy a prima facie case for fraud as the determining factor in the elections. The structure of the Iranian political system is such that it is incapable of producing a legitimate outcome by our standards.

There have been rallies and demonstrations both opposed to the election results and in support of them over the weekend in Iran. The government has put down opposition demonstrations, frequently violently.

There are reports of detentions of opposition candidates, mass arrests, killings of opposition demonstrators, and the use of Arabic-speaking bullyboys by the government in putting down the demonstration. All of these are consistent with past incidents that challenged the ruling oligarchy but to the best of my knowledge they remain unconfirmed.

Some have questioned the results of the elections based on inferences about how people in specific regions might have voted. Those are certainly suggestive of some degree of vote fraud and I don’t doubt that some degree of vote fraud was involved in boosting totals for the official winner. I don’t honestly know whether that jiggering resulted in a change in the outcome or just a higher apparent total for the incumbent. Considering the known facts I suspect more the latter.

Rather than name calling or impugning the intelligence or motives of those who have arrived at evaluations different from our own, it might be more productive to discuss what might have happened in the Iranian election, relating our conclusions to the facts as we know them and clearly distinguishing among facts, suppositions, inferences, and preferences. Further, what do the facts on the ground portend for the relationship between our two countries?

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. billindc says:

    All of which avoids the fact that when you’ve won 2/3rds of the vote you don’t have to launch a crackdown in the first place. Nor would an establishment candidate like Mousavi put his own life on the line unless he had excellent reasons to do so. Not offense intended but your replies reek of special pleading.

  2. Tad says:

    Well one thing seems definitely true no matter the cause- A significant portion of the Iranian population views the results as fraudulent, and by extension their government.

    I’m more interested in weather or not this will ultimately weaken the government or if a resulting crack down will make them more difficult to deal with. I’d like to see more analysis/speculation on this front, though it seems to early for much more than a simple guess.

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    Color me skeptical, too. Especially given that the poll linked by the doesn’t posit anything like the results that happened.

    The poll shows, three weeks ago, 34% for Ahmadnejad, 14% for Mousavi, but a 27% Don’t Know. The poll report itself predicts a runoff, meaning that neither of the two leading candidates was expected, given the poll results, to garner over 50% of the vote.

  4. Eric Florack says:

    Color me skeptical, too.

    And I. Skeptical, in fact, underplays the reality, but it’ll do for now.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    All of which avoids the fact that when you’ve won 2/3rds of the vote you don’t have to launch a crackdown in the first place.

    The ’79 revolution was the largest popular revolt in history with 11% of Iranians. This doesn’t appear to be anywhere near that size, and it doesn’t at all seem unusual, even going back to the Shah’s regime.

    Nor should I add is Mousavi the first disgruntled candidate to complain that the game is rigged. He’ll likely end up with the rest on the French riviera or somewhere.

  6. billindc says:

    Far more than 11% of the Iranians were fed up with the Shah and opposed him. How do you come by that number? The current crisis also is unusual as eyewitness accounts (Christiane Amanpour, for one) describe these protests as the largest seen since the overthrow of the Shah.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    How do you come by that number?

    In December 10 & 11, of 1978, millions of Iranians protested the Shah in parades and demonstrations all across Iran. The exact numbers are debated (btw/ 3 & 9 million in a country just over 30 million), but it was the largest mass demonstration in history and led the Shah to seek to resign under the best terms he could negotiate.

  8. billindc says:

    So your number should have been between 11% and over 25%…and that doesn’t take into account the fact that on the street you will only get the boldest, not the passive opposition. This is still the largest civil unrest since the Revolution and it’s not just Mousavi who has called it a sham…so did the former Revolutionary Guards commander, so did the conservative candidate Rezai, Karoubi, et cetera.

    Outside of the ruling junta, everyone in Iran is calling it a stolen election. Are we really to take one poll and some wishful thinking over that?

  9. BigEdsBlog says:

    I wrote about this last week. The Supreme Leader of Iran is the one who makes all the rules in Iran. He makes all the decisions in the country or controls all the decisions.
    In order to even be on the ballot you must be approved by a 12 person panel. 6 of that panel are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other 6 are appointed by a group that is hand picked by the Supreme Leader.
    Read more about it here and stick around for more good stuff-

  10. The one thing I think is certain is that someone is trying to steal the election. It may be Ahmadinejad or Moussavi, but one of them is trying very hard to steal the election.

    Both men are sufficiently plugged-in that they have a pretty good idea of any real numbers. Which means that both men likely know the truth. So one of them is trying to steal the election. I think that’s pretty close to a certainty.

    Based on what I’ve seen so far that person is Ahmadinejad. I think the weight of the evidence is heavily on Moussavi’s side.