Kuwaiti Impressions of U.S. Have Soured Since 2001

by Richard Burkholder
Director, International Public Opinion Research

Just one-quarter or less of Kuwaiti citizens view U.S. as friendly, trustworthy


PRINCETON, NJ -- Have Kuwaiti impressions of the United States shifted in recent years? If so, what is driving changes in these attitudes?

A little more than four years ago, Gallup released the results of its first post-9/11 survey conducted in the Middle East. Based on interviews conducted in final months of 2001, the inaugural Gallup Poll of the Islamic World found that nearly one-third (28%) of all Kuwait residents held a favorable view of the United States. In fact, among those actually holding Kuwaiti citizenship, net positive and negative views of the United States were almost even (36% and 37%, respectively) in late 2001.

However, from late 2001 to late 2006, the share of Kuwaiti citizens holding a favorable view of the United States was halved -- from 36% to just 17% -- while the share reporting an unfavorable opinion of America jumped from roughly one-third (37%) to two-thirds (66%). Similarly, the proportion of Kuwaiti nationals describing their view of the United States as "very unfavorable" also doubled -- from 17% to 34%.

What is behind these increasingly negative attitudes? In our most recent survey, Gallup read each respondent a list of 18 descriptive statements; eight of these were positive attributes, and 10 were negative. For each statement, Gallup interviewers also provided respondents with a list of 11 countries to which each description might -- or might not -- apply in their view*.

At least 7 of every 10 Kuwaiti citizens interviewed by Gallup in 2006 say they view the United States as a country that is "aggressive" (78%), "arrogant" (76%), "conceited" (73%) and "ruthless" (71%). Nearly as many say they see the United States as a country that is "easily provoked" (68%) and "adopts biased policies in world affairs" (68%). On the other hand, the United States is also widely identified as a country that is scientifically and technologically advanced (76%), and one in which citizens enjoy many liberties (64%).

Perhaps equally striking is the fact that for 9 of the 10 negative descriptors, the United States is the most commonly chosen of any of the listed countries. The only exception was "hypocritical," which is slightly more often associated with Britain than with the United States (59% to 56%, respectively, among Kuwaiti citizens).

Although many of these same criticisms were also voiced in Kuwait five years ago, there has been a sharp decline in the proportion of Kuwaitis who now say they associate two specific positive characteristics with the United States. In late 2001, fully 6 in 10 Kuwaiti nationals said they viewed America as "trustworthy" (60%), and nearly as many described the country as "friendly" (58%). In the 2006 survey, however, only one Kuwaiti citizen in four says he or she views the United States as trustworthy (24%), and even fewer describe it as a country that is friendly (13%).

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted during June-August 2006 with a randomly selected sample of 1,000 Kuwaiti residents, including citizens and expatriates living permanently in Kuwait, aged 15 and older. 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.

*Country options were: France, United States, Britain, China, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, and multiple responses were explicitly accepted.

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