Who are Iranian-Americans?

Surveys and the Iranian community


Who are Iranian-Americans?
by bahmani

It seems that one of the trendiest things to do in the Iranian community nowadays, (other than avoiding any sort of action at all costs) is the perennial community Survey. Recently the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) in Washington, DC, the latest organization with the usual need to serve, announced the results of yet another survey, this time a Zogby phone survey! This implied secret-sauce of information and revelation of who we are, that will somehow explain our superiority, and cure all our ills, inspires and invites and begs deserved criticism.

Just ask me how I know!

If you know me as a writer for this site, you might know that by day, I am a marketing consultant with my own "sweet little company" that helps customers (some even Iranian!), understand the market they intend to serve, and helps them to properly position and target their products, message and interest at the right/best segment of that market. So they can sell more stuff.

Surveys can help sell. Especially when you don't know anything for certain, about a target group.

In 2004, after having worked as a volunteer with several local community groups in the San Francisco Bay Area (Society of Iranian Professionals, Iran heritage, Persian Center, BAIVoter, etc.), it became all too clear to me that the Iranian community had an identity credibility problem. We all knew who we were, we just didn't have any way to prove it. I kept running into this problem over and over again with my American friends, and often I felt like I was standing in a party saying how good Iranians were, and often, the sheer claim of outright superiority when it came to income, and education levels and other Iranian accomplishments, was rightly perceived as highly dubious, and a bit arrogant and show-offish. The assumption that a group that was seemingly this accomplished could come from a country with so many problems, was the primary source of the skepticism.

And if you think about it, they are right, I mean, if we are so smart, accomplished, brilliant and rich, how come we have not grasped simple common social governance yet? To think of it another way, Come on! How difficult could it be if uneducated and lower income Americans can do it. And the French too!

OK, I'll admit that was an intentionally baiting question, but you have to know us to understand us, so step 1 was the need for hard data.

So, I looked and looked to find any credible survey of the Iranian community. I could find no evidence of a scientific survey. The best I could find was an old outdated mathematical projection that some MIT students did as a hobby math project (no brainer for MIT Iranians!), based on the 2000 US Census. The problem that I found with the MIT Survey was that the US census did not ask anyone if they were Iranian! Iranian was not a recognized ethnic group on the 2000 census. Also, even if it was, the dubious likelihood that an Iranian would answer this question willingly, given our "situation" was not very high. And in surveys, if there is the slightest chance for any bias to be introduced into a survey, the results of the survey become suspect. Scientifically worse, they are invalid.

So the MIT survey while exactly what we needed was unfortunately only a mathematical prediction based on data that did not ask the simplest question, "Are You Iranian?"

As I continued my search, I spoke about the problem to the various groups and orgs I was volunteering with at the time, and more and more people started saying, "Why don't we do one ourselves?"

So we did. We found an Iranian company with an excellent reputation (URC Inc.) that did the customer satisfaction surveys for companies like Microsoft, Siemens, eBay, to conduct the survey. Next I gathered a group of 10 organizations across the US, to help get the word out via their email lists and general community outreach. Additionally, we used the largest online gathering of Iranians, namely this site, to get the word out and get as many Iranians as possible to take the survey. A good survey is one in which you are certain that the audience taking the survey is as close to the target audience you want. Since we were after Iranians, we knew that using community groups and the largest online site was a pretty damn good sampling. There was little or no chance that a non-Iranian would take our survey.

The survey was an online survey, and there was some concern that this might exclude those Iranians who did not have internet access. But we weren't choosers, or that is to say we were well qualified beggars. The other concern was the validity of an online survey. Just ask any scientist though and they'll tell you that in this day and age the difference between the answers given on a written survey versus an online one are entirely negligible.

Additionally you cannot ask any kind of sensitive questions, such as ethnicity, or religious preference, or any question that could intimidate the taker, and thus introduce bias into the sample. This is one of the most common mistakes that other surveys I have seen, have made. I know it's a burning question, but things like ethnicity and religious background, when they could possibly have discriminatory implications of any kind, introduce bias into the survey, and if you have a survey that a group might be afraid to take, your results are considered scientifically invalid.

So off we went.

The other thing about a survey, is to conduct it as quickly as possible. The idea is to take as sharp a snapshot of the target group as possible. So we set our timeframe as 2 weeks. In that time we gathered over 5,000 responses. Almost all of them were correctly filled out (no gaps or missed questions). We knew we had a good relevant sample. It is important to know that in order to project results for a group, you do not need to actually contact every single member of the group. Plus, we were not trying to count Iranians. Just survey them. So 5,000 responses was more than enough, and according to the scientists 5,000 results more than accurately represented the 750,000 or 4 million Iranians in the US, depending on how many you believe we are.

This became the data I then used to produce the 2004 Iranian-American Survey (click to view), a report that outlined the results of the survey, attempted to interpret them a bit, and in order to give us the proof we needed, compared us to the equivalent census results taken from all Americans. As expected, in almost all areas, Iranians exceeded the American result by far.

I am not certain how Zogby has managed to successfully identify me as an Iranian and collect my number and those of other representative Iranians from their phone numbers, also I am still not sure Iranians would still be willing to give out information easily and freely over the phone as they did from a less personal and imposing online survey, and to be honest, all of this makes me a bit nervous, the current national security listening policy not withstanding, but I largely welcome this recent survey by PAAIA, and over the next few days I look forward to reviewing and comparing the results to the survey we conducted in 2004. Hopefully to see an even higher level of accomplishment for Iranians since 2004.

You can download the PAAIA survey and compare it to the 2004 Iranian-American Survey here.


more from bahmani

Not qualified to know

by bahmani on

The survey we conducted (not a bCubed survey) on behalf of the groups sponsoring it (there was no PAIIA at the time of the 2004 survey), was the first attempt to collect data without bias. We did not ask any questions on hot topic issues such as religion, ethnicity, or political opinions on international relations. According to our research these questions had the risk of introducing bias. Since ours did not have any of these questions, and the Zogby poll did, I'd respectively and (respectfully) lean slightly towards the 2004 survey as a more bias-free survey. The report was designed specifically to compare our results with the exact same results of the 2000 US Census. That might be considered a bit of a stretch since our data was 4 years older. But barring any other better sample to compare against, I think it was the right way to go.

Thanks for your comments.

Parsa Pezeshki

bCubed versus PAAIA/Zogby

by Parsa Pezeshki on


At the outset at least, PAAIA and Zogby's survery seems both more professional and scientific than the one conducted by bCubed. Especially the latter's report and analysis seemed rather hastily done and scientifically non-rigorous. I do, though, have some reservations about the methodology of the Zogby survey; a 'phone-based' sample usually isn't representative of the population, as not all have access to or are accessible by telephones.  

But overall Zogby's result seemed more representative and sensible, and could more easily be validated with common knowledge of the Iranian-American community. Some of the bCubed survey results seemed to be exaggerated because of methodological bias.


Dear Mr. Bahmani;

by varjavand on

Dear Mr. Bahmani;

I am not a statistician. Therefore I am not in the position to comment on the accuracy of the process used by Zogby International to carry out their survey or the way they have chosen their sample. I believe, however, your concern about how Zogby has established the Iranian identity of the respondents has already been addressed by the survey because 90% of them said they were born in Iran, so they must be Iranian. I browse through yours quickly; it seems there are not major differences in terms of responses to the similar questions asked by both surveys. Even if there are minor differences between the two, they might simply be due to the dynamics of time. People do change through time so do their priorities and their perceptions of things.  It seems to me that the questions by Zogby are more in depth and all of them give the respondents few options that make it easier for them to choose their responses especially to more complicated questions. In my opinion, their survey is fairly revealing and I believe factually so.

When the executive summary of that survey was posted here a couple of days ago, it generated lots of comments most of which the usual negative criticism of the IRI and compassionate debate about the internal affairs of Iran despite the fact that the Zogby survey shoes that only7% of Iranian-Americans believe such issues are important. I don’t know what is the deal with some of the readers on this site whose main mission is to convert every discussion into a hostile anti IRI forum as if have no other things to worry about in this country. Their behavior reminds me of the story of a poor peasant who lost his goat. Anytime he went a Mosque and listen to the Mullah’s preaching he started crying regardless of what the mullah was talking about. They ask him why he does that. He said any time the mullah start talking his shaking beard reminds me of my own problem, my lost goat making me cry. So, I don’t care about what is being said, I only car about my goat.

I am posting my comment about the executive summary again because I felt like Rodney Dangerfield of the commenters after I post it! Hopefully I get some respect this time. Here are my observations:

1.    Because most of the individuals surveyed came to the United States after the revolution, 54% to be exact. One can surmise that the findings of this survey might reflect the opinions and the priorities of that particular segment of the IA population and not the Iranian community at large! But I don’t think so; I believe, however, the survey results accurately depict what typical Iranian thinks.

2.    When it comes to economic, social-status, and performance indicators, the Iranians are well above the average and that is something to cheer, or even brag, about.

3.    Does it sound surprising to you that only 3% of us would like to describe ourselves by using the world religion? What is wrong with religion that we want to dissociate ourselves from it?

4.    51% of us would like to improve our image in America which I believe has been badly tarnished by the biased representation by US media. How can we do that?

5.    Almost half of us wish to become a member of an Iranian organization but currently are not. Don’t we know how to get organized? The survey is clear about the obstacle preventing us - or we think they do - from forming successful organizations both at national or local levels. How can we surmount these barriers?

6.    Most importantly, the responses to the questions about Issues of Importance were surprising to me.  A whopping 54% of respondents believe that domestic issues are of primary concern to them even though they are not unique to IA community. This is reinforced by the fact the Iranians are socially and politically extra active in this country. Such finding tells me that some of us have been beating the hell out of each other on this site debating the issues not important to Iranian community at large such as the issues related to internal affairs of Iran which are also the flagship of this site. The fact is that only 7% of Iranians think that such issues are important according to the survey. I believe it is the time that we switch the gear and pay more attention to the issues that really matter to us as Iranian-American; domestic issues such as healthcare, jobs, energy, economic crisis, crime, ect. Issues with significant bearing on our everyday life country. I hope JJ agrees with me.

I believe this survey gives us lots of homework to do.