Robert Satloff examines (subscription only) the supposed truism that Arab public opinion is against the United States in The New Republic Online.
The assumption that Arabs are enraged at America relies heavily on a single source——polling data. But there are two major problems with polls of Arab public opinion: the way those polls are generally reported; and the accuracy of the polls themselves.
Satloff examinbes both assumptions, and finds grave reasons to doubt them. He also exposes rather blatant misrepresentation of poll results in the press summaries sent out by the respected (though it obviously should not be) and widely cited Pew Global Attitudes Survey. Since very few readers actually consult the internals of polls, the summaries become the news. And Pew has a lot to answer for in this regard.
One of Pew's most newsworthy polls was its March 2004 survey, "A Year After Iraq War: Mistrust of America in Europe Ever Higher; Muslim Anger Persists." The press advisory that accompanied the survey results highlighted a deepening divide between the United States and Muslim societies, a charge that was picked up in Cassandra—like headlines in newspapers across the country.
Evidently few reporters took the time to read the fine print in the poll itself. If they did, they would have found that the poll provided absolutely no evidence to support the charge that "Muslim anger persists." In fact, the word "anger" did not appear in a single poll question. Muslims did give high "unfavorable" ratings to the United States, but there is considerable difference between viewing something unfavorably and being angry at it. (Think of broccoli or Britney Spears.)
It gets worse:
Pew's general pattern has been to downplay results that suggest America's standing is less bleak than commonly assumed. In 2004, for example, one question found that——in contrast to Europeans——Arabs and Muslims overwhelmingly endorsed America's role as the world's sole superpower, with huge majorities saying that international security would be endangered by the emergence of a global competitor to the United States. The press advisory made no mention of this. Similarly, the advisory avoided the fact that in three of four Muslim countries polled, there was a significant increase in the number of respondents who gave the United States a passing grade——that is, "excellent," "good," or "only fair"——for its performance in Iraq compared to the previous year's poll; in only one country, Turkey, did the percentage characterizing America's performance as "poor" rise, and that was just 2 percent. In Pew's summary of the 2005 survey, there is scant reference to a remarkable set of positive trends: Compared to previous results, all Muslim countries polled had a less critical image of President Bush; a more favorable view of the United States (here again, Turkey was the sole exception); a stronger sense that America truly favors democracy in their country; and a greater receptivity to implementing Western—style democracy. That certainly runs against the common wisdom regarding the political attitudes of Arabs and Muslims.
Hat tip: Ed Lasky
Thomas Lifson 10 01 05