Iran’s Young Guard

TEHRAN – Iranians will go to the polls on June 12 to elect a new president. While some argue that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election is a foregone conclusion, the outcome is, in fact, not at all clear.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly said in public settings that he will not declare his preference among the candidates. Indeed, in Mashad on March 21, Ayatollah Khamenei said, “There were some rumors that I support a special candidate for the presidential elections. But I have one vote, and I would not determine a certain candidate because the people themselves should choose their candidates based on their own knowledge.”

So how will the Iranian people weigh their votes? To answer, one needs to understand the composition of the Iranian electorate. With the voting age set at just 16 years, Iran has roughly 48 million eligible voters. Turnout averages 60-65% in presidential elections, implying that around 29 million votes are likely to be cast.

Analysts point to several electoral cleavages, particularly the urban-rural split and socioeconomic status. Moreover, a key determinant of voting behavior in the upcoming elections is likely to be generational. Some 46% of the electorate is under the age of 30.  In previous elections, younger voters have turned out in greater numbers than their elders, leading some to predict that half of the voters will be in the 16-to-29 age bracket. The number of potential first-time voters (16 to 19 years old) is estimated at six million.