A new public opinion survey of Iranians shows that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the leading candidate in the country's presidential elections scheduled for Friday.
The telephone survey of about 1,000 Iranians, commissioned last month by two Washington-based public policy institutes - Terror Free Tomorrow and the New America Foundation - found that 34 percent of those surveyed plan to vote for President Ahmadinejad.
His main rival, reformist former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, was favored by 14 percent of the respondents. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed said they are undecided.
The survey found that the two other candidates in the race are trailing far behind - Mehdi Karroubi attracted two percent of likely voters and Mohsen Rezaei was favored by one percent.
If none of Iran's presidential candidates receives 50 percent of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a run-off election.
According to the survey, Iranians favor a more democratic system for their country by a wide margin.
"What it shows is the Iranian people are very far removed from the stereotypes that are commonly asserted in the United States and the West about them," said Ken Ballen, President of Terror Free Tomorrow. "They want a democratic future. They want a free press. They want open elections. They want to be able to choose in a democratic vote their supreme leader."
The survey found that nearly 90 percent of Iranians plan to vote in Friday's elections. About 70 percent of those polled said they believe the elections will be free and fair.
Flynt Leverett, Director of the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, says Mr. Mousavi has attracted large crowds and much media attention at recent campaign rallies.
"We are obviously seeing a lot of anecdotal reporting about what at least Western reporters are perceiving to be a surge in support for Mousavi in the late stages of the campaign," Leverett said. "Like a lot of elections in the United States, it would seem the turnout is going to be a critical factor."
The public opinion poll shows that Iranians consider Israel and the United States as representing the greatest threat to their country.
However, the survey found that a large number of Iranians favor curtailing their country's nuclear program in return for foreign aid and investment.
"More than 7 in 10 Iranians would favor some kind of trade off for full inspections and a guarantee to insure no nuclear weapons," said Ken Ballen of Terror Free Tomorrow. "That is not nuclear energy, it is weapons. So the desire for reaching to the outside is very strong and that extends to the United States."
Accurate public opinion polls are rare in Iran, where Islamic leaders enforce strict rules of behavior and dissidents often are imprisoned. This survey was conducted by telephone from a nearby country that the sponsors declined to identify for security reasons.