By Marsha B. Cohen
If there's an anti-Iran angle in any news story, the U.S. mainstream media will find it. So will the pollsters they cite, who seem to be willing, even eager, to misrepresent their own data to feed the seemingly insatiable appetite for anti-Iran propaganda.
The most recent example--if not the most egregious--is a report that began circulating the other day under headlines to the effect that Iraq and Iran are "the unhappiest places on earth." The story originated in a Gallup release headlined "Happiness in Short Supply in Iran." published on June 3. Its author, Jon Clifton, manages Gallup's global government work and of the Gallup World Poll, an ongoing study conducted in more than 160 countries. Clifton cited and analyzed recently compiled survey statistics gathered in 2013 measuring positive and negative emotions in 138 countries, which asked people whether they had experienced a lot of anger, stress, sadness, physical pain, and worry the previous day. From those responses Gallup constructs national profiles and assigns them an "index score" measuring the pervasiveness of positive and negative emotions in each country."
Although the survey was conducted in 2013, quite possibly before the Iranian election that brought Hassan Rouhani to the presidency, Clifton connects dour Iranian responses to the "Happy video" arrest (and subsequent release) of several young Iranians last month.
The media storm that erupted after police arrested six young Iranians for dancing to the Pharrell Williams song "Happy" in an online video prompted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to tweet, "Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy." Iran's leadership is right to be concerned about the country's happiness. Gallup's most recent rankings of positive emotions find Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians also reported the highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq.
While the significance--and limitations--of such a study to one's understanding of global politics and world affairs may be arguable, the real problem here is that two weeks earlier, the same 2013 Gallup poll data, written up by Clifton himself and released on May 21, stated that, for the second year in a row, the least happy place in the world was Syria. Syria's "lowest positive experience index score," according to Gallup's metrics, was only 38, an all time low for any country in this particular Gallup survey. According to the chart accompanying Clifton's initial article, Iran's score is 63 (just 3 points below Israel's score of 66). Other countries scoring 63 in the survey Czech Republic, South Korea and Luxembourg and Kazakhstan.
Ranking well below Iran but above Syria with scores in the 50s in the May data measuring "positive emotions" were Chad (52); Lithuania (53); Bosnia and Herzegovina (54); Serbia (54); Nepal (54); Belarus (54); and Yemen (55). Iraq's index score was 59.
People Worldwide are Reporting a Lot of Positive Emotions
Jon Clifton, Gallup May 21, 2014
Furthermore, mainstream media outlets which had either blandly reported on Gallup happiest place data when it was released two weeks ago or had chosen to ignore it, now are much more interested in Clifton's recasting of it with an anti-Iran spin. Both ABC News, MSNBC claim in their headlines that, according to Gallup, Iran and Iraq "top the world's unhappiest countries list." More such media may be expected to follow.
If you're looking for a "happy" place to live, according to the Gallup survey in May, you'll have to go to Latin America, where Paraguay has topped the Gallup list for the third year in a row, with an 87 index score. Ten of the 11 happiest places in the Gallup poll are in Central and South America, Denmark being the sole exception and the only European country to score in the 80s. According to 2014 Gallup stats, Venezuelans, who scored 81 on the Gallup happiness index, are happier than either Americans (78) and Canadians (79).
Now it may well be that somewhere in Gallup's compilation of data, which is due to be published in the next week or so, there is some way of reading Gallup's research data to prove that Iranians are among the most miserable people in the world, even if Gallup's own survey statistics indicate otherwise. Without doubt Iranians have a great many reasons to be unhappy, but they're certainly not the only ones.
About the Author
Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
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