“All over Iran, people shared many similar issues. They worry about infrastructure and sidewalks. They worry about education and healthcare.”
As Iranians vote today in Presidential and local elections, EA WorldView speaks with Tom Etienne and Mostafa Khosravi.
Etienne is a project coordinator at Election Compass
(KiesKompas), a Dutch company specialized in voting evaluation tools. Khosravi is a political analyst from Arseh Sevom, a non-profit organization focused on civil society in Iran. They are part of a team who have created an online quiz to gain more insight into how people in Iran feel about issues that affect them on a day-to-day basis.:
Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered from the results?
TE: What I’ve found most surprising is the agreement between male and female participants. Both seem concerned about issues that directly impact women, and both men and women agree that the rights of women should be expanded.
For instance, both men and women overwhelmingly disagree on the idea that girls who live in areas that lack access to high schools should just stay home.
When it concerns rights that are not solely applicable to women, women seem to care less. For instance, women did not seem to care how long military service lasted, while nearly all men want a shorter term.
Q: Is it unusual to find this kind of agreement in other countries?
TE: In general, what we find is that women tend to care more about environmental issues and the application of civic and human rights. Men tend to care more economic issues than women. We are finding a similar pattern in Iran.
Q: Can you tell us anything about how respondents feel about religious and ethnic minorities?
TE: What we have found is generally high support for religious and ethnic minorities. 90% of respondents agreed that Baha’i [a minority religion whose members face discrimination, harassment, and even detention] have the right to education. 94% feel that the state should have no authority over the institutions of religious minorities, and 96% believe that religious affiliation should not be a barrier to university attendance.
Q: A question for you, Mostafa. What kinds of conversations are happening because of this quiz?
MK: Interestingly, we have discovered a lot about society in Iran from the questions we did not ask. We asked if military service should be reduced to six months. Now people are asking us why didn’t we ask if it should be all-volunteer? And they have a lot more questions just about military service. For instance, a lot of people are talking about military service and why we have to do it for free. You know in Iran people do their service for two years completely without pay. They get just $25 a month for food. That’s it. So people finish their Masters, their PhD, and they go directly into their service.
Also, people talk a lot about how Iran accepts transgender. But if you transition to a man, you cannot go to the military and because of that you cannot get any work in the government. Since the government is Iran’s largest employer, this is quite restrictive.
Not going to the military means you cannot have insurance and you can’t register your marriage and you can’t get a driver’s license.
So we are finding that many people are discussing this because of the question on the quiz about reducing military service to six months.
Q: How did you discover which issues were important to people in Iran?
TE: For two months, we worked with a researcher who collected over 500 issues from people inside Iran. She spoke with people in every province, in small towns and large cities. It was difficult for us to narrow down the issues to the 30 we have in the quiz.
MK: What we found was that all over Iran, people shared many similar issues. They worry about infrastructure and sidewalks. They worry about education and healthcare.
Q: Do either of you have any predictions for today’s election?
Election Compass has implemented voting advice applications all over the world, including Sweden, Turkey, and the European Union. Most of those applications compare the stances of participants to those of political parties.
In Iran, where political platforms are not publicly available, participants learn more about how their positions compare to each other. They do this by participating in an online quiz designed to show how they feel about pressing local and national issues.
If you are interested in taking the quiz, it can be found at Rayeman.me. Respondents can gain insight into their own political personalities and how they fit in with those of Iranians.
Arseh Sevom’s current project Dar Sahn (The Floor) monitors the actions of Iran’s Parliament and local councils.
TOP PHOTO: Iranian voters in Tehran, May 19, 2017 (Vahid Salemi/AP)