An independent poll conducted for IranWire has found the majority of Iranians do not fully trust the officials tasked with managing the coronavirus epidemic in Iran.
The survey, carried out by Stasis Consulting between October 22 and October 28, involved telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,297 Iranians aged 18 and older living in provinces across Iran.
It found that a quarter of Iranians have "complete distrust" in the government's ability to resolve the issue, while another 50 percent said they only had partial trust in state institutions to keep them safe in a public health emergency.
Across the board, almost 50 percent of respondents said that they were dissatisfied with the government's handling of coronavirus to date, while more than 70 percent of people in Iran are in favor of a full lockdown.
The poll suggests that Iranians are engaging with news coverage of Covid-19 more than any other issue in the past. But although Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is still the most popular source of news, the vast majority - around 70 percent - of Iranians do not completely trust the IRIB's coverage and 75 percent of people are not convinced by official figures on Covid-19 in the country.
The following is a digest of the findings presented to IranWire. You can explore the full dataset here.
Record Engagement and Widespread Disapproval
Even for those not normally inclined to follow the news, coverage of coronavirus has been singularly hard to avoid over the course of 2020.
But according to this poll, an unprecedented number of Iranians are pro-actively following the situation and seeking out the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic: mostly through either the state broadcaster, or via the internet and social media.
Some 47 per cent of all respondents in both urban and rural areas said they follow news about Covid-19 "a great deal or a lot", with another 27 per cent making a semi-regular habit of reading about developments.
Arash Ghafouri, who led the survey team at Stasis, told IranWire that to see this level of engagement with a given issue was striking. "We have conducted surveys like this before," he said, "and generally speaking, those who follow the news [in Iran] are at less than 50 per cent, even during the elections.
"Almost 20 per cent of people normally don't follow the news at all; they might hear about things from friends or family but otherwise don't care."
The surge in interest in news about Covid-19 might have something to do with the sheer volume of people in Iran who by now, 10 months since the first outbreak was formally declared in the country, have in been personally affected by the disease. Some 56 percent of the survey respondents said either they or a close friend or relative had been exposed to coronavirus.
The survey also found that in total, 34 percent of Iranians "completely disapprove" of how the government has handled the pandemic to date. Another 14 percent said they "somewhat disapproved" and 31 percent said they only "somewhat approved". Fewer than one in five people were completely behind the methods the government has used to try to contain the virus.
Urban and Educated Iranians Most Likely to Distrust the Government
The Stasis poll also highlights difference in public opinion of the Iranian state and state-controlled media depending on where people live and their level of education. "There's a huge gap," Ghafouri notes, "between the responses of those who have university degrees and those who don't, and people who live in urban or rural areas. People who have a college degree are more exposed to news of different kinds, rather than just the IRIB, and are more likely to disapprove of the way the government is handling this problem."
People living in cities and urban environments account for 75 percent of Iran's population. According to this survey, three quarters of these people now use the internet and social media as their chief source of news about Covid-19 - rising to 85 percent for Iranians with a college education. By contrast, only 55 percent of people in rural zones and 46 percent of people without a degree regularly read coronavirus news online, with both of these groups also much more likely to regularly tune into the IRIB.
Levels of trust in the government were also much higher in rural zones, with 30 percent of respondents saying they "completely" trust Iranian officials to correctly handle the epidemic, compared to 18 percent in urban areas. Even then, however, another 65 percent of people in rural areas and 70 percent of people with less education said they did not entirely trust or "completely" distrusted the government.
Across all the categories surveyed, between 63 and 84 percent of Iranians said they did not wholly trust the figures on coronavirus cases and fatalities as reported in the Ministry of Health's daily briefings, with those aged over 60 the most likely to have faith in the reported statistics. "There has been a lot of contradiction between government officials about this issue," Ghafouri told IranWire, "with sources in the government saying the numbers aren't true and will be two, three, four times higher on a daily basis."
A majority of Iranians across all sectors of society also agreed that the government should close schools, government offices and public places and the country should go into quarantine. Asked whether, should a vaccine become available, they would prefer to use one originating from Europe, the USA, China, or Russia, most were uncertain but the majority of those who had a preference said Europe.