World

Sixteen Years After Gulf War, Kuwaitis Cool Toward U.S.

by Richard Burkholder
Director, International Public Opinion Research

Two-thirds of citizens now say they have an unfavorable view of the United States

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- On Feb. 26, 1991, the American and allied forces of Operation Desert Storm entered Kuwait, liberating the small emirate from seven months of harsh Iraqi occupation. In Kuwait City, thousands lined the streets to cheer the troops' entry, many waving American flags. Twelve years later, Kuwait provided the staging ground for a massive U.S.-led invasion of Iraq itself -- one that succeeded in toppling the Baathist regime of the country's former occupier.

One might presume, therefore, that Kuwaitis provide an exception to the generally critical appraisal of Americans voiced in many other predominantly Muslim states. However, Gallup's latest polling there indicates this is not really the case. 

When assessing public opinion in Kuwait, it is important to recognize that a majority of the country's residents do not actually hold citizenship. Like many neighboring states, Kuwait is home to a large population of immigrant "guest workers." Furthermore, descendents of such immigrants -- even those whose families have lived in the country for generations -- are generally ineligible for citizenship unless a specific exception is granted by the country's authorities. For this reason, the following analysis looks not only at aggregate sentiment, but also at the views of both Kuwaiti nationals and non-citizen expatriates -- hereafter termed "expats."   

Just 13% of all Kuwait's residents now say they hold a favorable view of the United States -- though Kuwaiti nationals (17%) are somewhat more likely than the country's expats (8%) to do so. Conversely, at least two-thirds all Kuwaitis now say they have an unfavorable opinion of the United States (nationals 66%, expats 74%). Even more worrisome from a U.S. perspective: one-third (34%) of all Kuwaiti nationals now describe their view of the United States as "very unfavorable," as do fully half (52%) of those in the country's expat community.

How do these perceptions compare with those people Gallup has interviewed in other predominantly Muslim countries? Even if we restrict the point of comparison to solely Kuwaiti nationals (that is, if we exclude the entire expat community), Kuwaitis are now less likely to hold a favorable opinion of the United States than are residents of Iran (29%) or Lebanon (28%) -- and are roughly on par with those in Turkey (17%) and Jordan (15%). On this last point of comparison, it is perhaps worth noting that Turkey, unlike Kuwait, denied requests for its territory to be used as a major coalition staging area for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted June through September 2006 with a randomly selected sample of 1,000 Kuwaiti residents, including citizens and expatriates living permanently in Kuwait, aged 15 and older. UAE and Kuwait surveys conducted June through September 2006, Lebanon September 2006. All other countries surveyed in 2005. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. For results based on the subsample of 503 Kuwaiti nationals only, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points. 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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