The Arab Center, Washington DC (ACW) held a press conference on the findings of the 2016 Arab Opinion Index on Tuesday, April 11. The event, hosted by the US sister organization of the ACRPS, allowed US-based journalists and academics the opportunity to delve into the findings of the Index, the largest survey of Arab public opinion, which last year gauged the views of 18,310 respondents in 12 Arab countries. The fifth in a series of regular polls, the Arab Opinion Index allows researchers to monitor changes in public attitudes over time.
Speakers at the ACW press conference included Dr. Soleman Abu-Bader, Professor of Social Work at Howard University; Dr. Imad K. Harb, ACW Director of Research; and Dr. Tamara Kharroub, ACW Assistant Director and Senior Analyst.
Dr. Kharroub explained that the 2016 Arab Opinion Index surveyed 12 Arab countries: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Tunisia. The questionnaire was administered to 18,310 respondents who were asked about eight aspects of life in the region: living conditions; views of institutions and government effectiveness; attitudes towards democracy; civic and political participation; religion and religiosity in public life; Palestine and intra-Arab relations; Arab public opinion and the “Arab Spring”; and Arab public opinion toward ISIL. She noted that “the Arab Opinion Index is an important component of ACW’s mission to provide a better understanding of the Arab world in the United States and inform the US policy community of Arab perspectives on key current affairs and policy issues in the region.”
Dr. Abu-Bader explained the methodology of the annual survey, explaining that the researchers used a randomized, stratified, multistage, self-weighted, and clustered approach. There were 840 trained interviewers, giving equal representation to both genders, who administered the 35-page survey instrument. The stages of sampling involved dividing each of the 12 countries by relying on countries’ own administrative divisions (provinces, governorates or states as appropriate), then into urban and rural areas, and finally into lists of families in the urban and rural communities. Demographic characteristics included age, gender, marital status, and education.
Dr. Imad Harb presented highlights of findings from the Index in three themes: respondents’ attitudes to democracy; regional and international powers; and the Islamic State. He noted that 77% considered democracy to be the most appropriate system of government for their countries, while 56% said that they felt free to criticize their governments without fear of retribution. As for Arab views toward foreign powers, 89% of respondents indicated that Israel constituted the most important threat to their security, and 82% considered the United States a security threat. Further, 80% of respondents rated US policy toward Palestine as “negative” or “very negative,” with similarly negative views of US policy toward Syria (77%), Iraq (78%), Yemen (71%), and Libya (72%).
As for Arab attitudes toward the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Dr. Harb noted that the overwhelming majority of Arab respondents, 89%, held “very negative” or “negative” views. He noted that favorable opinions of ISIL (a small minority of 5% of respondents) did not correlate with religiosity or views of the role of religion in public life, as both religious and non-religious respondents comprised the 5% that viewed ISIL positively.
The panelists then answered a number of questions from the audience who came from the diverse Washington, DC community interested in the Middle East, including journalists, employees of nongovernmental organizations, policy think tanks and diplomats. An electronic version of the presentations which the audience received can be found here.