Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pew Poll Reveals What the World Thinks in 2002

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pew Poll Reveals What the World Thinks in 2002

Article excerpt

Richard Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in the United States recently charged Andrew Kohut with a monumental task: to gauge international public opinion on a variety of important issues facing the world community today. Chairing the committee that oversaw the project was former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

Kohut's poll--labeled the Global Attitudes Project--took four months to complete, from June to November 2002, and was conducted in some 44 countries, with a total of 38,263 randomly selected adults speaking 63 languages interviewed. It has yielded a number of surprising conclusions.

To begin with, people all around the world are more satisfied with their family lives than with their incomes or jobs. Exceptions can be found in some countries in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where people voice significant discontent with their family lives.

Some regions are particularly affected by problems that are not as prominent elsewhere. For example, Africa is the only region in which a significant minority voluntarily identifies hunger as a personal problem. Also, while crime is a top national problem world-wide, in Latin America it ranks high as a pressing personal concern. One positive exception to this regional rule can be found in Canada, the only country in the West in which a majority of those surveyed expressed satisfaction with national conditions.

One striking revelation concerns how deeply alienated many in the Middle East feel they have become. A word of caution is necessary, since in some countries the survey was not approved by local governments and had to be conducted circumspectly, with the result that participants were not entirely forthcoming. Still, some conclusions were clear. For example, the Turkish government, which Washington seems to have concluded will support a war against Saddam Hussain, is totally out of sync with Turkish public opinion. (Turks, incidentally, seem to be the unhappiest people surveyed in any part of the world.)

Perhaps most interesting are the poll's findings on international perception of the United States. Over all, the results show a decrease in American prestige, most perceptibly over the last two years, and especially in Muslim nations.

America's war on terrorism is opposed by majorities in nearly every predominantly Muslim country surveyed. This includes countries outside the Middle East conflict area such as Indonesia and Senegal. Also, sizable percentages of Muslims in many countries with significant Muslim populations believe that suicide bombings can be justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies.

But America's image problems are not confined to Muslim countries. The poll found few people, even in friendly nations, expressing a very favorable opinion of the United States, which is particularly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan. Sizable minorities in Western Europe and Canada share that view, while French ratings of the United States are the lowest in Europe. Interestingly enough, Russians have a much better opinion of the U.S. than they did in 2000. Six out of 10 Russian respondents now hold a favorable view of the U.S., compared to 37 percent just two years ago.

As should be obvious, opinions about the U.S. are complicated and contradictory. People everywhere embrace things American, while simultaneously decrying U.S. influence on their societies. Similarly, while the war on terrorism, the centerpiece of current U.S. …

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