WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Substantial majorities of citizens in three key developing countries of South Asia -- India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh -- told Gallup they "don't know" whom they would prefer to be the next president of the United States or refused to give an answer, revealing a great disconnect between many of the world's poorest inhabitants and the politics of the United States.
Nearly three in four respondents in Bangladesh (73%) and roughly 9 in 10 respondents in India (91%) and Pakistan (91%) did not have an opinion when asked if they would personally rather see Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain elected president. Those respondents who did express a preference did so at a low rate. Only respondents in Bangladesh expressed a statistically significant difference in their preference, with Obama favored by 19% and McCain by 8%.
Similar, though not as dramatic, when asked if the outcome of the U.S. election would make a difference to their country, majorities of these populations did not express an opinion. Thirty-three percent of Bangladeshis, 10% of Pakistanis, and 6% of Indians said it makes a difference to their country who is elected president.
Overall, the high percentages of "don't know" and "refused" responses in these three South Asian countries are much greater than what Gallup has observed in most countries outside of Asia. While poverty may be the most immediate issue influencing public opinion about the U.S. presidential candidates, the great cultural distance and communications divide that separates the United States from this region may also be a factor.
To many observers in the developed world, it might seem counterintuitive that large majorities of adults in South Asia do not have an opinion of either U.S. presidential candidate. Residents of the developed world hear about these countries with regularity: Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country, is a key player in the U.S. war on terror, and many eyes are on India as the world's largest democracy achieves impressive growth year on year. Both Pakistan and India have also garnered international attention for the terrorist activities taking place within and along their borders. Further, Bangladesh was a part of many international headlines in the past year because of the devastating cyclone that ravaged parts of the country in November 2007.
Observers could assume that the U.S. presidential election would be at the forefront of South Asians' minds in these countries because of the prominent roles that the United States plays in the region, including trading partner, ally, and provider of aid. However, daily life in these countries does not afford most of their residents the luxury of closely following domestic political news of the United States.
Poverty dominates the landscape of much of South Asia. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were once part of a larger British India just 60 years ago and have endured many of the same challenges as they have struggled to modernize: overpopulation, underdevelopment, and ethnic and religious strife are widespread. Gross domestic product is no more than $2,600 per capita in these countries, and less than half of women and no more than three-quarters of men are literate. It therefore seems sensible that these populations would be less inclined to have an opinion about the contenders for president of a country that is so far from their borders when survival is a more pressing issue.
Other hypotheses for the high rate of respondents who did not offer an opinion exist. Residents of these countries may be cut off from such news due to a language barrier. In India, for example, U.S. election is more likely to be covered in the national media, which is mostly presented in English, a language that not all Indians can read or understand. Regional news outlets, which are offered in the local language, are less likely to cover this topic, so residents who cannot access the national news may not have access to details of impending U.S. presidential election. Furthermore, it could be assumed that at least some fraction of the total percentage of respondents who did not offer an opinion about either candidate actually have some awareness of the candidates but would not personally see either hold the office of president of the United States.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with adults aged 15 and older. Sample sizes were 2,000 adults in India, 1,000 adults in Bangladesh, and 804 adults in Pakistan. Polling took place in all three countries in May and June of 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points for India, ±4 percentage points for Bangladesh, and ±5 percentage points for Pakistan. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.