Dec 3rd 2013

Using and Abusing Polls

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

By now, I should be used to the fact that people will "cherry-pick" polls or try to "spin" results to fit their agendas. But, it still rankles.

For example, I still get upset when I recall how then Vice-President Dick Cheney famously tried to find good news in the first poll Zogby International conducted in Iraq in October, 2003. Our poll findings demonstrated that even at that early date America was in real trouble with the Iraqi public. But Cheney would not accept bad news. Appearing on "Meet the Press" a few days after our poll release, he praised the "carefully done...Zogby poll" saying that there was "very positive news in it".

In fact, what we found was that a majority of Iraqis claimed that they had been abused by the US military, felt that America was hurting their country, and wanted US troops to leave. 

In response, I wrote a rebuttal, which "The Guardian" titled "Bend It Like Cheney", chiding the Vice-President for abusing our poll findings to suit his purposes in much the same way that he had falsified intelligence to justify the war.

With this as background, I want to address some concerns I have with interpretations being given to the results of our most recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) poll in Egypt.

We released the data this week under the headline "Egyptian Attitudes: Divided and Polarized". Since then, I have seen news stories, commentaries, and tweets implying that our findings have good news for the Muslim Brotherhood, bad news for the military, and surprising news about the US, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. In fact, if the results of the poll are looked at objectively, the results are far more complex and nuanced.

It is true that the Muslim Brotherhood still has the confidence of 34% of Egyptians. But confidence doesn't equal support, and it's not possible to positively spin or boast about this number when the poll also shows that one-half of all Egyptians want the Brotherhood to be banned and 83% of Egyptians say that the Morsi government has some "responsibility for the current problems facing Egypt today".

And while 79% of Egyptians say that "national reconciliation should  be an important goal for Egypt", a plurality of all Egyptians see the behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood as "the biggest obstacle to reconciliation".

Another columnist made note of findings that showed that 51% of Egyptians said that "it was incorrect of the army to depose Morsi" as president, that 46% of Egyptians said they were "worse off" since the July 3rd military action, and that support for the military had dropped from over 90% in June to 70% in our most recent poll.

What that writer failed to note was that the military's decision to depose Morsi and support for the military, itself, was mainly opposed by the one-third of Egyptians who said they had confidence in the Muslim Brotherhood. Among the other two-thirds of Egyptian society, the decision to depose Morsi had overwhelming support and the military, as an institution, still has a near 90% confidence rating.

As for those who said they were now "worse off" - those numbers were also skewed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, 80% of whom said they were "worse off". Among the rest of Egyptians, more than 75% said they were either "better off" or "about the same as they were before".

As for the writer who expressed surprise at the US's low 4% favorable rating, or the tweeter who dismissed the high favorable ratings Egyptians gave to Saudi Arabia and UAE as being "bought by billions" - our poll findings tell a different story. The US has almost always fared poorly in Egyptian public opinion largely due to US policy toward Palestine and the war in Iraq. Since we began our Arab World polling in 2002, except for the brief honeymoon that followed President Obama's 2009 speech at Cairo University, Egyptian attitudes toward the US have consistently been low. In 2011 the US favorable rating in Egypt was just 5%, in 2012 it was 10%. 

At the same time, our past polls show that Egyptians have had favorable views of Saudi Arabia and the UAE long before those nations made large contributions to the current Egyptian government. In fact, the only interesting finding in this area of the September poll is the significant drop in Egyptian support for Turkey and Qatar (despite the significant financial support Qatar had given to the Morsi government). This decline is most likely due to the support Turkey and Qatar gave to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The bottom line is that despite the efforts of the "cherry-pickers" and "spinners", there is nothing in this poll to buttress the position of the Brotherhood. And while the military can find some evidence of support in the poll - there are, as well, clear warning signs that should be heeded.

Here's what I believe are the real top line findings from our survey. First and foremost, Egypt is deeply divided and polarized. But while that is true, 60% of all Egyptians say they are hopeful about the country's future (slightly down from the 68% who were hopeful in July, but still significantly higher than the 36% who were hopeful in May - before the military intervened). It is also important to note that 83% of all Egyptians believe that their situation will improve in the coming years.

At this point, two-thirds of all Egyptians see themselves in a post-Morsi era. In our most recent poll, they tell us that they want: a government that will "keep us safe and restore order", the "road map" to be implemented creating a framework for "a more inclusive democracy", and an amended constitution and a newly elected civilian government. Finally, they decidedly favor national reconciliation - even while they see the Brotherhood as the main obstacle to such an effort.    

From earlier polls we have conducted in Egypt, it is clear that the number one priority for most Egyptians is the improvement of their economy leading to job creation. Continued unrest only impedes progress in achieving that goal. There is a message here for all of Egypt's political forces - including the Brotherhood and the military - to avoid behaviors that further exacerbate the divisions that are paralyzing the country. Egypt needs to turn the corner so that its government and people together can create the more prosperous, inclusive, and hopeful future that most Egyptians still believe can be theirs.  

 

All Zogby Research polls can be found at www.zogbyresearchservices.com; pre-2011 Zogby International polls can be found at www.aaiusa.org

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