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A rare Iran presidential poll shows Tehran mayor Ghalibaf as runaway favorite

Iranian presidential candidates debate on national TV in Tehran. (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Mehdi Dehghan via AP)
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Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf holds a strong lead in the eight-way Iranian presidential race, according to survey data from a company that claims to run the only tracking poll in the election. The U.S.-based Information and Public Opinion Solutions says it bases its data on daily phone interviews with a sample size of just over 1,000 people.

The poll has 39 percent of decided voters saying they support Ghalibaf, a remarkable lead over all the other candidates. However, the poll also reports that 57 percent of voters are undecided, meaning that presently undecided voters could easily erase his lead. It's plausible, though, that many of the undecided voters are disillusioned with Iranian politics – an increasingly common sentiment after the protests and crackdowns that followed the disputed 2009 election – and thus not likely to turn out on election day.

Ghalibaf's lead is strongest among women, according to poll; 47.7 percent of surveyed Iranian women said they preferred him over every other candidate. He also does slightly better among under-40 voters, although he commands impressive leads with men and over-40s as well. The only polled demographic where he does not come out ahead is rural voters, only 18 percent of whom picked the Tehran mayor. Rural voters say they prefer Mohsen Rezaei, a long-time Revolutionary Guards commander who also ran in the 2009 election.

Any poll can be wrong, and phone-based surveys in Iran have obvious shortcomings and challenges. So take the results with a grain of salt. Still, it's worth noting that a judicial office associated with the supreme leader approved all of these candidates to run, so it's hard to imagine that many Iranians would fear to support them in an anonymous telephone poll.

The Washington Post's Jason Rezaian recently profiled Ghalibaf from Tehran:

Ghalibaf is viewed warily by some of Iran’s political conservatives and clerical rulers, who view him as being more focused on pragmatism than revolutionary ideals. But there are few signs that he would make bold diplomatic shifts or decisions about Iran’s nuclear program if elected.
On Saturday, on a state-run television network directed at Iranians abroad, Ghalibaf said: “The president alone cannot decide foreign policy, as it is the sum of systemwide [decisions]. Our supreme leader and other branches have a say in this. So foreign policy does not change much with the change of president.”
As the only candidate with real executive experience and demonstrable accountability to the public, Ghalibaf, 51, is making a strong case that he has what it takes to be the Islamic Republic’s chief executive. Working in his favor are a solid military background and a highly praised record as mayor of Iran’s sprawling capital of more than 12 million people.

It's also worth noting that the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also previously served as the mayor of Tehran.

The polls look bad for Saeed Jalili, the country's nuclear negotiator and a fervent nationalist who appears to be a favorite of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the clerical establishment. He received 13.9 percent support from decided voters in the poll, placing him in a distant third.