As much as I hate to be fair to a guy like Ahmadinejad, I can’t ignore this story from the Washington Post which shows that he enjoyed a sizable lead before the election.
What’s more, the following pollsters have absolutely no reason to lie. In fact, they have every reason to shut up, but they decided to share their information with us anyway.
First, the methodology…
Independent and uncensored nationwide surveys of Iran are rare. Typically, preelection polls there are either conducted or monitored by the government and are notoriously untrustworthy. By contrast, the poll undertaken by our nonprofit organizations from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years. Conducted by telephone from a neighboring country, field work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award. Our polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Next, the numbers…
The breadth of Ahmadinejad’s support was apparent in our preelection survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.
Much commentary has portrayed Iranian youth and the Internet as harbingers of change in this election. But our poll found that only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.
The only demographic groups in which our survey found Mousavi leading or competitive with Ahmadinejad were university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians. When our poll was taken, almost a third of Iranians were also still undecided. Yet the baseline distributions we found then mirror the results reported by the Iranian authorities, indicating the possibility that the vote is not the product of widespread fraud.
And then you look at the work the guys at FiveThirtyEight have been doing, and a win by Admadinejad seems a little bit more plausible.
For instance, Nate Silver called into question a report that demonstrated how Iran’s election was rigged, by comparing it to the exact same numbers that were reported in our own election.
Based on conversations with people who are a bit more informed about Iranian domestic politics, it seems absolutely possible that Ahmadinejad in fact won (although his share of the vote was probably boosted through “dirty tricks” — intimidation both before and during the election, jamming text messaging services, etc.) and also absolutely possible that the election was stolen. The statistical evidence is intriguing but, ultimately, inconclusive.
So that’s where we’re at right now, but I do think the meme that there’s no way Ahmadinejad could have won is starting to die. Yes, the results are fishy and yes, I don’t believe them either. But before we start taking sides (ahem, Mike Pence) we need to know more.