Measuring Arab Public Opinion

James Zogby’s Column

In conjunction with a media poll done for Abu Dhabi TV, Zogby International (ZI) has conducted a detailed survey of the opinions of individuals in five Arab states (Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE). This comprehensive multi-nation survey has revealed a great wealth of information that should be studied for a better understanding of some contemporary Arab world realities.

Some of what comes through in the poll validates what is known anecdotally. For example, there is widespread and deep support for the Palestinian cause and substantial public support for Arab regional cooperation. On the other hand, the survey also reveals a divergence of opinion on the prospects for a comprehensive Middle East peace.

The groundbreaking study by Abu Dhabi TV and Zogby International also lays the basis for establishing an Arab world economic confidence index, by providing measurements in each of the countries that describe individual attitudes toward their current status and confidence in future economic advancement.

What follows is but a sample of the results obtained in the ZI poll.

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I. Arab World Issues

Table 1.

How optimistic or pessimistic are you that there will be a comprehensive Middle East peace in the next five years?

Saudi Arabia     Egypt     Lebanon     UAE     Kuwait


43                     68             28         32             28


41                     30             70         61             61

Table 2.

How optimistic or pessimistic are you that the Arab world will achieve greater regional cooperation within the next five years?

Saudi Arabia         Egypt         Lebanon         UAE         Kuwait


52                         76             50                 56             59


34                         21             49                 38             36

Table 3.

How optimistic or pessimistic are you with the prospects for Arab regional economic cooperation?

Saudi Arabia     Egypt     Lebanon     UAE     Kuwait


50                     NA         30             46         48


34                    NA         68              38         39

Table 4.

How important to you personally is the Palestinian cause (asked in cooperation with the Anwar Sadat Center at the University of Maryland?

Saudi Arabia         Egypt         Lebanon     UAE     Kuwait

The most important

63                         79             63             59         58

Top three issues

20                        12            24               27         30

Top five issues    

9                         4                            10             7


As Table 1 demonstrates, recent developments have taken a dramatic toll on the confidence that Arabs have in the prospects for Middle East peace. With the exception of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there appears to be a great degree of pessimism that the region will soon see a settlement. Only in Egypt is there optimism. In the UAE, Kuwait and Lebanon, opinion is decidedly pessimistic.

With or without peace, Arab opinion appears optimistic that regional cooperation can be established among the Arab nations (see Table 2). Here, too, Egyptian opinion is the most optimistic. But there is also strong support for such an outcome in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. Only in Lebanon is opinion divided on the likelihood of this regional cooperation.

There is somewhat less optimism for the prospects for Arab-wide economic cooperation (Table 3). Only in Lebanon is there a decidedly contrary view, with almost seven in ten pessimistic that such cooperation will develop.

As Table 4 explains establishes, support for the Palestinian cause is quite strong in all the Arab countries surveyed, with Egyptians indicating the strongest degree of support. Views in Lebanon, UAE, Kuwait and Said Arabia are still quite high and remarkably similar, with an average of three in five saying the Palestinian cause is their most important concern.

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II. Personal Economic Confidence and Satisfaction

Table 5.

Are you better off financially than your parents were?

Saudi Arabia     Egypt    Lebanon     UAE     Kuwait


61                     NA         40             38         57


38                     NA         58             40         33

Table 6.

Do you expect your children to be better off than you are?

Saudi Arabia             Egypt             Lebanon         UAE     Kuwait


55                             NA                 30                 46         49


16                             NA                 31                         12

Table 7.

Are your household finances better or worse than they were four years ago?

Saudi Arabia         Egypt         Lebanon         UAE     Kuwait


41                         NA            1                55         24


34                        NA             53                 18         43


17                         NA             34                 22        27


Since these questions were not asked in our Egyptian survey, we can only compare Lebanon to the three Gulf countries included in our study. And the contrast is, of course, striking. There is a degree of economic discontent among the Lebanese that is clear from the results found in tables 5, 6, and 7. On the other hand, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE there is a significant degree of both satisfaction in current status and confidence in the future. Both Saudis and Kuwaitis, for example, feel substantially better off than their parents and both share an extraordinarily high degree of confidence that this economic growth will continue. Emiratis are divided as to whether they are better off than their parents, but like their Gulf neighbors have great confidence in the future.

When looking at their personal economic progress for just the past four years, Emiratis again demonstrate a high degree of satisfaction. Attitudes are also positive in Saudi Arabia, but less so in Kuwait. Only in Lebanon are attitudes very negative, with more than one-half of all Lebanese saying that they have lost ground in the past four years.

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While these are only a few of the results from the ZI comprehensive poll, they are a good idea of the type of data that cam be available to researchers and policy makers in the region. With these numbers forming a benchmark, future surveys can be used to create an index measuring the change in attitudes over time.

While the effort was, admittedly not perfect, it nevertheless represents a first. The bottom line is that now it is possible to measure Arab opinion, and the importance of taking that first step is immeasurable.

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Professional teams working with ZI in each of five countries conducted the poll. It is, no doubt, more difficult to conduct such a poll in the Arab world then in the United States. Given local conditions in each of the countries, methodological adjustments had to be made. While in the United States random phone calling is the standard procedure, in most of the five countries, personal face-to-face interviews had to be done to supplement phoning. In only one country was it necessary to delete some questions.

In all, almost 2,600 were surveyed: in Egypt 700, in Lebanon 500, in Saudi Arabia 700, in the UAE 300 and in Kuwait 400. Results were weighted and tabulated to correspond to known demographic information.