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Michael Totten takes on what he thinks is a pernicious misconception: the idea that Ahmadinejad is popular “outside the cities”. He argues this is a projection of the Western stereotype of city-dwellers as hip, progressive and cool. But in reality, Ahmadinejad’s power base is in the cities, not the country.


as Nate Silver documents with hard data at FiveThirtyEight, even in 2005 most of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s supporters lived in Iranian cities, not the countryside. This strange meme in many media reports that Ahmadinejad has a “base” of support beyond Iran’s cities is not only wrong, it has everything backwards. The uprising we’re all watching on YouTube is taking place inside Ahmadinejad’s “strongholds,” such as they are.

If so, that creates two possible biases. First, it understates the discontent against the regime because if Ahmadinejad has lost popularity in the cities, then he really has no bailiwicks to speak of. The second bias follows from the first. The diplomatic corps, based as it is in the cities, may have overestimated the support of the current Iranian president. That underscores the importance of looking at Iranian society on its own terms, and not through the prism of Western conventional wisdom.

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