May 17, 2011

Arab Spring Fails to Improve U.S. Image

Chapter 1. Opinions of the U.S. and President Barack Obama

The image of the United States remains overwhelmingly negative in predominantly Muslim countries. U.S. favorability ratings are low in nearly all of the Muslim nations surveyed, and majorities or pluralities in all seven say the U.S. does not take the interests of countries like theirs into account when making foreign policy decisions. Moreover, many continue to see the U.S. as a potential military threat to their countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama also receives low marks in largely Muslim countries. With the exception of Indonesia, majorities in the countries surveyed lack confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. And for the most part, Obama’s handling of issues in the Muslim world, including the recent uprisings in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran and Afghanistan, are met with disapproval.

In general, attitudes toward the U.S. and Obama are more positive in Israel than in the other Middle Eastern countries surveyed and in the Muslim world more broadly. Yet, majorities of Israelis also disapprove of the way Obama is handling key issues in the Muslim world, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On most measures, Israeli Arabs offer more negative assessments of the U.S. and Obama than do Israeli Jews.

U.S. Image Largely Negative

The United States receives negative ratings in most of the predominantly Muslim nations surveyed. This is especially the case in Turkey and Pakistan, where only about one-in-ten have a favorable opinion of the U.S. (10% and 11%, respectively). In Jordan, just 13% offer positive ratings, as do 18% in the Palestinian territories and 20% in Egypt.

America’s image is more positive in Lebanon and Indonesia. A majority of Indonesians (54%) have a favorable view of the U.S., while four-in-ten have an unfavorable opinion. In Lebanon, opinions about the U.S. are evenly divided – 49% have a positive view and 49% have a negative opinion.

Attitudes toward the U.S. are more negative than they were a year ago in four of the seven predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. In Jordan, favorable ratings are down eight percentage points, from 21% in 2010. Similar drops in U.S. favorability are evident in Turkey (7 percentage points), Pakistan (6 points) and Indonesia (5 points).

U.S. Seen as Unilateralist

Publics in the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed continue to say that the U. S. tends to act unilaterally in world affairs. Fewer than a quarter in Lebanon (23%), Jordan (23%), Egypt (21%), Pakistan (18%) and Turkey (17%) say the U.S. considers the interests of countries like theirs when making foreign policy decisions.

The U.S. receives more positive marks on this issue in Indonesia, where 43% believe the U.S. takes a multilateral approach. Still, about half (49%) in that country say the U.S. does not consider other countries’ interests when making foreign policy decisions.

In Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon, respondents are more likely than they were last year to say the U.S. takes other countries’ interests into account. In 2010, 9% of Turks, 15% of Egyptians and 19% of Lebanese said the U.S. acted multilaterally. In contrast, Indonesians are now less likely than they were a year ago to say the U.S. takes a multilateral approach; half said that was the case in 2010.

Cooperation With the U.S.

Majorities in Jordan (57%), Lebanon (54%) and Pakistan (54%) believe their countries’ governments cooperate too much with the U.S. government; a 39% plurality in Egypt shares this view.

Views about cooperation with the U.S. are more mixed in Turkey, where 26% say their government cooperates too much with the U.S. and the same percentage says the Turkish government does not cooperate with the U.S. enough; about a third (32%) of Turks say their country cooperates with the U.S. about the right amount.

Most Indonesians are satisfied with the amount of cooperation between their country and the U.S.; 54% say their government cooperates about the right amount, while 19% believe it cooperates too much and 18% say it does not cooperate enough with the U.S. government.

U.S. Still Seen as a Threat

Majorities in six of the seven predominantly Muslim countries surveyed say they are very or somewhat worried that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country someday. Concern about a potential U.S. threat is especially widespread in the Palestinian territories, where about nine-in-ten (91%) say it could pose a threat.

In Indonesia, where most view the U.S. favorably, 71% express concern that the U.S. could pose a military threat to their country someday. This view is shared by two-thirds in Pakistan, about six-in-ten in Lebanon (59%) and Turkey (59%) and 54% in Egypt.

Jordan is the only largely Muslim country surveyed where fewer than half express concern about a potential U.S. threat; 46% say they are worried, while 52% say they are not worried. A year ago, 52% of Jordanians were concerned that the U.S. could pose a military threat to their country and 47% were not worried.

Views of U.S. Anti-Terror Efforts and the War in Afghanistan

Support for U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism remains low in most of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. Just 9% in Jordan and 14% in Turkey and Pakistan say they favor American anti-terrorism efforts; 21% of Egyptians and about one-third of Lebanese (35%) express support.

Indonesians offer more positive opinions of the U.S. on this issue than do publics in other largely Muslim countries. More than half (55%) in Indonesia favor U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism, while one-third oppose such efforts.

The war in Afghanistan, a cornerstone of American anti-terrorism efforts, is unpopular in the Muslim world. At least two-thirds in the seven predominantly Muslim countries surveyed say U.S. and NATO troops should withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Jordanians are especially inclined to favor withdrawal from Afghanistan; nearly nine-in-ten (87%) want troops to leave as soon as possible. About eight-in-ten (78%) in Egypt, three-quarters in Turkey and 71% in Indonesia and Lebanon also share this opinion, as do 68% in Pakistan.

Views of President Obama

Like the United States, President Obama receives low marks in most of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed. Just about one-in-ten Pakistanis (10%) and Turks (12%) and 14% of Palestinians say they have at least some confidence in the American president to do the right thing in world affairs. Obama also gets negative ratings in Jordan and Egypt, where only 28% and 35%, respectively, say they have confidence in him.

Views of Obama are somewhat more positive in Lebanon; 43% in that country have at least some confidence in him. Still, nearly six-in-ten (57%) Lebanese say they have little or no confidence in the American president.

Indonesia is the only predominantly Muslim country surveyed where a majority expresses confidence in Obama to do the right things in world affairs. About six-in-ten (62%) Indonesians say they have confidence in Obama, while 35% do not.

Yet, confidence in Obama has declined somewhat among Indonesians since last year; two-thirds offered positive opinions of him in 2010. Positive ratings of Obama have declined even more in Turkey, where nearly a quarter (23%) said they had confidence in the U.S. president a year ago; and among Palestinians, favorable ratings of Obama have declined nine percentage points since 2009, when the Palestinian territories were last included in the survey.

Low Ratings for Obama’s Policies

Majorities or pluralities in nearly all of the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed disapprove of Obama’s handling of four important issues in the Muslim world – the calls for political change in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Afghanistan, and Iran.

Obama receives his lowest marks for his performance on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. At least eight-in-ten in Lebanon (85%), the Palestinians territories (84%), Egypt (82%) and Jordan (82%) disapprove of the way Obama is handling this issue.

About two-thirds in Turkey (68%) and 57% in Indonesia also disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The balance of opinion is also negative in Pakistan; 45% disapprove while just 6% approve of Obama’s handling of the conflict. About half (49%) of Pakistanis do not offer an opinion.

As is the case with his performance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ratings for Obama’s handling of Iran and the situation in Afghanistan are extremely low. At least 70% in five of the Muslim countries surveyed disapprove of the president’s performance on Afghanistan, with Jordanians and Palestinians expressing particularly negative opinions (87% and 81%, respectively, disapprove). And while Obama’s handling of Iran has the approval of four-in-ten Lebanese, a majority in that country (55%), as well as in Indonesia (56%), Turkey (68%), Egypt (68%), Jordan (77%) and the Palestinian territories (80%), disapprove.

Opinions about Obama’s handling of the recent uprisings in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya are also negative, but considerable minorities in the Middle East approve of his job performance on this issue. This is especially the case in Egypt, where protests led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year; 45% of Egyptians approve of Obama’s handling of calls for political change in the Middle East, while 52% disapprove. About four-in-ten (41%) in Lebanon, 33% in the Palestinian territories and 31% in Jordan also approve of Obama’s job performance on this issue; 52%, 63% and 65%, respectively, disapprove.

In the non-Arab countries surveyed, Obama also gets low marks for his handling of the Arab Spring, but many do not offer an opinion. For example, 65% in Turkey disapprove of Obama’s job performance on this issue and just 8% approve, but 27% say they do not know; in Pakistan, 40% disapprove of Obama’s handling of the uprisings in the Middle East, 5% approve, and a 55%-majority does not offer an opinion.

Religious and Sectarian Divide in Lebanon

Ratings of the United States and President Obama vary considerably across religious and sectarian groups in Lebanon. On nearly every measure, Shia Muslims in that country offer far more negative assessments of the U.S., its handling of foreign policy and its president. For example, seven-in-ten Lebanese Christians and 59% of Sunnis say they have a favorable opinion of the U.S.; in contrast, just 12% of Lebanese Shia rate the U.S. positively, while 88% give it an unfavorable rating.

Majorities of Lebanese Christians (57%) and Sunnis (55%) also express confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs, compared with just 14% of Shia. And while majorities among the three groups say the U.S. acts unilaterally when making foreign policy decisions, about one-third of Christians (34%) and 30% of Sunnis say the U.S. takes the interests of countries like Lebanon into account, while just 4% of Shia Muslims say this is the case. Moreover, nine-in-ten Shia say their government cooperates too much with the U.S. government, far more than the percentage of Christians (38%) and Sunnis (39%) who share this view.

Lebanese Shia are also more critical of Obama’s handling of issues in the Muslim world, although Christians and Sunnis also often express disapproval. For example, at least three-quarters of Christians (76%) and Sunnis (81%) give Obama low marks for his handling of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but Shia are unanimous in their disapproval of the president’s job performance on this issue.

Attitudes Toward the U.S. and Obama in Israel

Israelis continue to offer far more positive opinions of the U.S. and Obama than do their neighbors in the Middle East, but views in that country often divide along ethnic lines. About seven-in-ten (72%) Israelis, including 77% of Israeli Jews, have a favorable view of the U.S.; among Israeli Arabs, however, views of the U.S. are mostly negative, with 36% offering a positive opinion and nearly six-in-ten (58%) saying they have an unfavorable view.

Overall, Israeli opinions of Obama are more negative than ratings for the U.S. in that country. Nearly half (49%) of Israelis have at least some confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs and about the same number (51%) do not have confidence in Obama; Israeli Jews are also about evenly divided in their opinion of the U.S. president. Among Israeli Arabs, however, Obama’s ratings match the negative views of the U.S.; 38% of Arabs have confidence in Obama, while 60% do not.

Arabs in Israel are also more likely than their Jewish counterparts to say their government cooperates with the U.S. too much; 40% of Arabs say this is the case, while 25% say Israel does not cooperate enough and 23% say it cooperates about the right amount with the U.S. Among Israeli Jews, 30% believe their government cooperates too much, 22% say it does not cooperate enough, and a 44%-plurality says it cooperates about the right amount with the U.S.

There is agreement between Israeli Arabs and Jews on some issues, however. Majorities among both groups say the U.S. takes the interests of countries like Israel into account when making foreign policy decisions, and Arabs are more likely than Jews to say this is the case (89% vs. 65%). Still, at least six-in-ten in each group disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (64% of Jews and 67% of Arabs) and Iran (61% of Jews and 66% of Arabs).

Israeli Jews are more critical than Arabs of Obama’s handling of the recent calls for political change in the Middle East. Among Jews, 36% approve and 52% disapprove of Obama’s job performance on this issue; nearly half (48%) of Israeli Arabs approve and 35% disapprove of Obama’s handling of the recent uprisings in the region.