Many in the West may agree that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an unpleasant politician with a rhetorical tendency to bluster about Iran's power and to foolishly question the historical accuracy of the Holocaust, but that doesn't answer the crucial question of whether he was democratically reelected.
Despite what you may have read in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the available evidence is that Ahmadinejad did win last June's presidential election and that efforts embraced by nearly the entire U.S. news media to oust him amount to yet another case of seeking the removal of a democratically chosen leader.
Though widely ignored by the major American news media, a recent study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found little evidence to support allegations of fraud, nor to conclude that most Iranians view President Ahmadinejad as illegitimate.
PIPA analyzed multiple polls of the Iranian public from three different sources, including some before the June 12 election and some afterwards. The study found that in all the polls, a majority said they planned to vote for Ahmadinejad or had voted for him. The numbers ranged from 52 to 57 percent just before the election to 55 to 66 percent after the election.
"These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process," said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. "But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad."
To address the possibility that some poll data collected within Iran might have been fabricated, PIPA matched up patterns of responses collected inside Iran to those obtained by calling into Iran and found the patterns so similar "that it is hard to conclude that these data were fabricated," Kull said.
Regarding the possibility that Iranians felt intimidated, PIPA noted that responses to other poll questions such as criticism of the Islamic Guardian Council and the Interior Ministry showed Iranians willing to express less than favorable views about powerful institutions.
And, further undercutting the U.S. news media's cheerleading for "regime change" in Iran, PIPA's analysis noted that none of the polls supported such a radical step. Large majorities and even most supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi endorsed the Islamist character of the regime, such as allowing Islamic scholars to veto laws that violate principles from the Koran.
"Our analysis suggests that it would not be prudent to base U.S. policy on the assumption that the Iranian public is in a pre-revolutionary state of mind," Kull said.
Beyond PIPA's analysis, other U.S. media claims, which supposedly supported the theory of massive election fraud, have collapsed under closer examination. For instance, one fraud assumption was that Azeris would have voted heavily for one of their own, Mousavi, instead of for Ahmadinejad, who nevertheless carried that region in the official results.
However, a pre-election poll, sponsored by the New America Foundation, found a 2-to-1 breakdown for Ahmadinejad among Azeris. Part of the reason appeared to be that Ahmadinejad had poured government resources into that area. So, the assumption of Azeris automatically lining up behind Mousavi proved false.
Another frequent charge from the Western press was that Ahmadinejad's claim of victory came too fast, but that ignored the fact that Mousavi was out with a declaration of victory before any votes were counted. The first partial results, showing Ahmadinejad in the lead, came out hours later.
The reason why Ahmadinejad might have really won the election by something like the 2-to-1 margin in the official tallies was that his support was concentrated among the urban and rural poor who benefited from government food giveaways and jobs programs and who tend to listen more to conservative clerics in the mosques.
Generally speaking, Mousavi had the backing of the urban middle class and the well-educated, especially in the more cosmopolitan capital of Tehran where universities became a center for protests against Ahmadinejad.