World

Arab League Countries' Views of U.S. Leadership Up in 2009

by Mohamed Younis

Approval ratings increase in 10 of 12 countries between March and October

DOHA, QATAR -- Approval ratings of U.S. leadership increased in 10 of 12 Arab League countries that Gallup surveyed twice in 2009. Between the first survey period from February to March and the second survey period from July to October, U.S. leadership enjoyed the highest approval jump in Bahrain (33 percentage points), Mauritania (22 points), Kuwait (19 points), and Comoros (15 points).

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Overall, approval of U.S. leadership among citizens in these countries is highest, and above the majority level, in Djibouti (81%), Mauritania (78%), Comoros (69%), Bahrain (55%), and Kuwait (52%). Majorities in five countries -- Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Territories, and Yemen -- continue to express disapproval of the job performance of U.S. leadership. In the 12 nations surveyed, drops in approval ratings, such as in Algeria (four points) and Saudi Arabia (three points), are within the margin of error and thus remain unchanged since the last round of polling in February/March 2009.

The newest data were collected after President Barack Obama's much-covered speech in Cairo, Egypt, which was aimed at outreach to the Muslim world and improving America's image worldwide. The administration's attempts to apply diplomatic pressure on Israel to "freeze" settlement development in the West Bank may have also affected respondents' approval ratings at the time. It should be noted that the data precede Obama's decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and his failure to meet the January 2010 deadline for closing the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In addition, since the time of polling, the Israeli government's continued refusal to completely freeze settlement development as requested by the Obama administration may have an effect on U.S. job approval in the near future.

While Obama's approval rating among Americans has for the most part declined since the summer, approval of the job performance of U.S. leadership in Arab League countries appeared to be on the upswing at the time of the survey.

U.S. Leadership Continues to Earn Best Marks in Sub-Saharan Africa

Among these 12 Arab League nations, U.S. leadership enjoyed the highest approval ratings in three countries in sub-Saharan Africa -- where approval in each country far exceeded the majority. This continues a trend seen during the course of the Bush administration with approval ratings of U.S. leadership higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in any other region in the world.

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Negative to Positive Shifts and Other Surprises

The latest wave of Gallup data from the Arab world found, for the first time, statistically significant increases in the percentage of Palestinians and Lebanese who approve of U.S. leadership. Approval of U.S. leadership in the Palestinian Territories increased 13 points to 20%, while approval ratings in Lebanon increased 8 percentage points to 30%. At the same time, in Saudi Arabia, approval ratings of U.S. leadership, an important U.S. ally in the region and a country Obama visited en route to Cairo for his address, showed no statistical shift positive or negative.

Additionally, the percentage of respondents who said they didn't know or refused to rate the job performance of U.S. leadership shed light on the degree to which respondents feel they are familiar enough with the approach of the current leadership to form an opinion. In many cases, don't know responses dropped noticeably: in Mauritania by 24 points to 1%, in Kuwait by 17 points to 8%, in Comoros by 14 points to 6%, and in Saudi Arabia by 7 points to 11%. On the other hand, don't know responses significantly increased in Bahrain by 8 points to 17%, in Algeria by 7 points to 10%, in Yemen by 6 points to 20%, and in Morocco by 4 points to 9%.

Bottom Line

While approval ratings of U.S. leadership alone cannot serve as a proxy for evaluating U.S.-Arab world relations, Gallup's latest polling in the Arab world suggested some improvement at the time of the survey. Surprises were found in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, where opinions improved for the first time since the Bush administration. However, in Saudi Arabia and Algeria, no statistical change in approval ratings of U.S. leadership took place between the two polling periods in 2009. While the president's focus on outreach to the Arab and Muslim worlds may have had a positive effect on the attitudes of many, his ability to follow through on many of the proposed programs for cooperation and development will be crucial to adding more Arab countries to the list of those where a majority approve of the leadership of the United States.

To see all countries worldwide for which 2009 U.S. approval data are available, see the updated map and table on the World Citizens' Views on U.S. Leadership, Pre- and Post-Obama page.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact worldpollpartners@gallup.com or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Territories, Mauritania, Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Kuwait, and Yemen between March and April 2009 and July and October 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.3 percentage points in Bahrain to a high of ±3.7 percentage points in Yemen. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. 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.

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