Iran is popular in Pakistan, overwhelmingly disliked everywhere else

January 11, 2013

As promised, I'm continuing to mine the data from Pew's fascinating global attitudes project, which has just released a big batch of new surveys. Among other things, the researchers asked respondents in 21  countries how they feel about Iran. The results are bad news for Tehran, which seems to be wildly unpopular. Here are its favorable ratings, with unfavorables farther down in the post:


Source: Pew Global Attitudes

The only country where Iran's favorability rating scores above 50 percent is Pakistan, with 76 percent giving the rogue state a positive review. That's a tad ironic given Pakistan's treatment of its Shiite minority, a sect with which Iran is closely identified. Pakistani Shiites have been so repeatedly and brutally targeted by terrorist groups that the government's failure to protect them "amounts to complicity," according to Human Rights Watch. Perhaps Pakistanis, though, have some sympathy for a country with potential nuclear ambitions and a love of shooting down U.S. drones.

Otherwise, though, it's a lonely world for Iran. Even in Lebanon, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has visited to much fanfare, only 39 percent of respondents gave Iran a favorable rating. And that was the second-highest. Not exactly a sweeping national endorsement, and possibly one that divides along Lebanon's sectarian lines. It doesn't give you much faith in Iran's supposed leadership of the Muslim world that they're not even liked in most surveyed countries. 


Source: Pew Global Attitudes

It's also interesting to see who doesn't like Iran. You might expect that the U.S. would be the least favorable toward Iran, but we're actually tied with Brazil (yes, the country that wanted to help Turkey broker a sideline nuclear deal) at fifth from the bottom on favorability rating, with 13 percent of each saying they like Iran. Americans are also much less likely than Europeans to give Iran an unfavorable rating: 68 percent in the U.S., compared to European scores in the 70s and 80s. Maybe that's because members of the large Iranian-American community are less eager to condemn the country where they might still have relatives, or maybe it's just because Europeans really do have a harsher view of Tehran.

I admit I was surprised to see that, according to this survey, Germans have the lowest opinions of Iran in the world. Only 6 percent of German respondents gave it a favorable rating, with 91 percent unfavorable. On this metric at least, Germany is probably the closest country in the world to Israel, which is working to draw Western opinion against Iran's nuclear program. This might also surprise Jewish groups and Israeli diplomats, who have seemed worried that Germans are becoming more antipathetic toward Israel, and thus less concerned about Iran's possible nuclear ambitions.

A controversial poem last year by the Nobel Prize-winning German poet Gunter Grass assailed Israel for maybe considering a strike on Iran, which was perceived as yet another sign of German antipathy toward Israel and perhaps even sympathy toward Iran. There may well be some truth to the former – European attitudes toward Israel have generally been souring – but as for the latter, it appears that Iran is nowhere more disliked than in Germany. Maybe there's something about a rogue nationalist state that rubs Germans the wrong way.

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Max Fisher | January 11, 2013