Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Iran’s Narratives about U.S. Election Integrity in 2020
Iran’s Narratives about U.S. Election Integrity in 2020

Iran’s Narratives about U.S. Election Integrity in 2020

June 19, 2020

Post by Samantha Lai

In the face of the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election, Iranian state-sponsored media outlet PressTV has pushed narratives doubting the integrity of the U.S. election. PressTV  appears to have adopted a narrative similar to that seen in Russian outlets’ content about U.S. election integrity—the notion that the U.S. political establishment sought to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid. However, in contrast to Russian state-sponsored media, Iranian coverage focuses more heavily on allegations of racism and oppression to claim the U.S. democratic system is rigged.

PressTV content takes on a notably conspiratorial tone, claiming that American elites have hijacked the country’s historically unrepresentative and flawed political system. Woven into this general narrative are allegations of voter fraud and suppression. In PressTV’s world, America is run by a neoliberal cabal that determines who gets elected and who doesn’t, with Senator Bernie Sanders often the target. An article titled “Democratic Party old guard may rig the election to derail Sanders’s campaign: Analyst,” names “Clinton, Obama, Biden, and quite a few others” as members of this group who will “likely continue to do all they can to rig the upcoming elections to derail his campaign.” 

Another PressTV article, “Russia not supporting Bernie Sanders: Analyst,” reiterates a similar point noting “the Democrats will probably never allow him to get the nomination.” Similarly, an opinion piece titled “Neoliberal cabal that seized Democratic Party won’t cede power” writes how Elizabeth Warren stayed in the race to splinter the progressive vote and the establishment “tried before the Nevada caucus to paint Sanders as a Russian agent.” The article also mentions the Nevada Culinary Workers Union’s attack against Sanders’s Medicare for All plan. Instead of interpreting it as a disagreement between union workers and their leadership, the piece suggests that the union had been pressured by the Democratic Party.

Many of Iran’s narratives surrounding the U.S. election rest on accusations of racism and oppression. By using existing American flaws, PressTV attempts to further theories that put into question the integrity of the election. “Bernie’s bump bedevils Biden’s billionaires- Big boys bite back, an opinion published in early March, writes that the Democrats and mainstream media are guilty of “generations of gaslighting African Americans into believing that the party of the Klan and The Bomb is really the party of the New Deal and Civil Rights, and that staying on the safe Democrat plantation is their only choice.” The article then doubts the legitimacy of Super Tuesday results by questioning exit polling numbers, the racial makeup of certain states and the election results. With this, it suggests that the establishment “stole Massachusetts for Biden, and similar shenanigans may have happened in Minnesota, maybe in Texas or other places.” Another opinion piece directly accuses the Democratic Party and the mainstream media of suppressing Sanders supporters and minority voters in order to get its preferred candidate elected, writing that the most “obvious form of voter manipulation” was “the media’s one-sidedness for Biden and opposition to Sanders.” 

Further, PressTV arguments about election integrity go beyond the 2020 election, highlighting historical inequities to doubt the current American system’s legitimacy. “There’s no democracy in America, there never has been: Analyst,” writes: “The privileged people in the country should run it, nobody else; ordinary people should have no say about how the country is run.” A separate piece alleges U.S. elections have been rigged for the last 200 years, and that even “Sanders would go along with the dirty system, if he was in office. He might just want a little wiggle room to throw crumbs at his supporters, not enough to matter, but to confuse them and make them believe he really serves ordinary people.” Another article highlights comments made by filmmaker Michael Moore about how the electoral college could help Trump win the 2020 elections even if he lost the popular vote.

Social Media Reach 

PressTV generally sees far less public Facebook engagement than Russian state-sponsored media about U.S. election integrity. This may be due to the fact that PressTV writes about the topic less often than Russian state media outlets, as well as that PressTV appears to have a smaller American audience engaging its content. 

As of June 17, the article about U.S. election integrity with the most public Facebook engagement (measured in public shares, comments and reactions) was a story published on March 10, titled “US elections have been rigged for last 200 years: Writer,” with 155 public shares, 149 comments and 553 reactions. The article was reposted on Twitter nine times by individual users. The articles with second- and third-most public Facebook engagement both saw fewer than 100 public Facebook interactions, and each article was promoted on Twitter once by different users. 

PressTV’s articles on U.S. election integrity uniformly seek to paint the American electoral system in the worst possible light, mimicking Russia’s narrative of blaming the Democratic establishment and mainstream media for alleged corruption. PressTV appears to target Sanders supporters and minority voters in 2020, attempting to exploit U.S. flaws to create apathy among voting blocs about the impact of their voice. With this, the outlet seeks to undermine trust in the electoral system while driving further division between the American government and its people.