Iran Election Update: Rouhani Aggressively Playing to the Reformist Base

Two public opinion polls conducted after the first two presidential candidate debates indicated that President Rouhani was ahead of his two major conservative opponents, Ebrahim Raisi and Tehran Mayor Qalibaf, before the final debate held on May 12. The other three candidates — First Vice President Jahangiri, Mostafa Hashemitaba, and Mostafa Mirsalim — all polled less than 5%, confirming that they will at best be spoilers in the May 19 vote.

Despite his reported lead, Rouhani stepped up his attacks on Raisi and Qalibaf — suggesting that the president is not confident of victory. Perhaps recognizing that his opponents’ criticism of Iran’s economic performance may be getting traction, Rouhani moved beyond defense of his management of the Iranian economy to a frontal assault on the conservatives’ record on political and social freedom in Iran. This approach was evident in the third and final debate held on May 12, when Rouhani criticized Qalibaf’s human rights track record, the campaign support that Raisi has received from Iran’s security establishment, and the damage to Iran’s economy from the business empire of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Rouhani’s intent in doing so is to energize the reformist base to vote on Friday.

Predata’s monitoring of Iranian digital attention to the Conservative and Reformist coalitions (see below) suggests that Rouhani’s strategy may be paying off. In the past week, the reformist signal has spiked significantly and is now close to that for the conservatives.

Turning to Predata’s signals for the six presidential candidates, the most noteworthy trend (see below) has been the decline in momentum for Ebrahim Raisi, reportedly the Supreme Leader’s preferred candidate. In contrast, the signals for all the other candidates have been either stable or rising. This suggests that Raisi, who was pole vaulted into the election with no prior political experience, is having difficulty generating attention to his candidacy.

In terms of issues, Predata’s monitoring of several Persian-language Wiki pages (see below) indicates that the conservatives’ efforts to focus attention on the economy continue to get resonance. [Link to signals] On the other hand, the conservative candidates — Raisi, in particular — may be vulnerable on issues related to political and social rights. Since the beginning of the campaign, for example, digital attention has spiked on the topic of the 1998 execution of thousands of political prisoners, an event in which Raisi was reportedly involved.

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