There has been a dramatic increase in recent years in the amount of polls conducted by Arab governments and NGOs helping to correct the emphasis of the first wave of post-September 11 surveys carried out by American organisations, which were overwhelmingly narcissistic: How do Arabs feel about America? About American policies? About American leaders? In short, how do Arabs feel about the issues Americans care about? These polls produced results, but without any sense of how much the issues really mattered to the people being surveyed. For instance, survey research has consistently found that economic and quality of life issues rather than American policies or politics are foremost among Arab concerns.
Opinion research that explores deeper cultural matters and local political issues will be far more useful than news-making surveys about anti-Americanism. Mark Tessler, who heads the Arab Barometer project and is the leading American academic working on Arab public opinion argues that efforts should be directed toward “explanation rather than descriptions” in order to assemble a complex picture about attitudes and their causes rather than bullet-point numbers.
“FIFTY PER CENT ARABS HOPEFUL ABOUT OBAMA” is fine for headline writers, but it is far less important than acquiring a sense of why they are hopeful, or about what would vindicate, or dash, their hopes.