Poll: Obama’s Outreach Has Not Improved Arabs’ Views of the U.S.

July 14, 2011 - 3:59 AM

Obama middle east

President Obama removes his shoes during a visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on April 7, 2009. Two years of outreach to the Arab-Islamic does not appear to have led to more favorable opinions of the U.S. among Arabs, a new poll suggests. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

(CNSNews.com) – Two years of outreach to the Arab-Islamic world by the Obama administration apparently has not ushered in more favorable opinions of the United States among Arabs, according to a new poll of attitudes in six key Mideast countries.

Favorable views of the U.S. among respondents in the Zogby International poll have dropped by more than half across the six countries compared with a similar survey conducted two years ago – from an average 33 percent in 2009 to 15 percent in 2011.

In four of the six countries polled – Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates – favorable opinions of the U.S. are even lower now than they were in 2008, the final year of President Bush’s second term.

In the other two countries – Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia – they are higher now than in 2008, but down noticeably from 2009, when the poll was conducted several months after President Obama took office.

Comparing the data with earlier Zogby polls since 2002, the only time respondents across the six countries were less favorably inclined towards the U.S. than they are this year was in 2004, in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Then the average viewing the U.S. favorably was 11 percent, compared to 15 percent now (see graph).

Asked what issue the U.S. government should address in order to improve relations with the Arab world, majorities in Egypt (73 percent), Jordan (60 percent) and Morocco (58 percent) selected “resolving the Palestinian issue” as their foremost concern, while in the UAE the Palestinian issue and “engagement with the Muslim world” were tied (27 percent each) as most important.

Saudi respondents picked “efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program” as the most pressing issue (51 percent) with the Palestinian issue of considerably less importance (14 percent). By a one-point margin (34-33 percent), respondents in Lebanon chose “ending the Iraq war” over the Palestinian issue.

Among other findings in the new poll:

-- Asked whether the killing of Osama bin Laden made them less or more favorably inclined towards the U.S., only one percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia and two percent each in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco said it made them view the U.S. in a better light. In Lebanon the “more favorable” option received seven percent and in UAE 39 percent.

Meanwhile the unfavorable response to the killing of the fugitive terrorist was 62 percent in Egypt, 58 in Lebanon, 55 in Morocco, 52 in Jordan and 50 in UAE. (The remainder of respondents chose “no impact.”)

-- Given the choice of five world leaders – Obama, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Saudi King Abdullah – respondents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with their policies.

Only Saudi respondents gave Obama’s policies a higher positive rating than those of Ahmadinejad (by 10 percent compared to four percent). In the other five countries, the Iranian leader’s policies were significantly more popular than Obama’s (Egypt 31-3; Lebanon 60-10; Jordan 20-3; UAE 36-8; and Morocco 22-10).

“With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. more than doubled in many Arab countries,” commented Arab American Institute president James Zogby.

“But in the two years since his famous ‘Cairo speech,’ ratings for both the U.S. and the President have spiraled downwards. The President is seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his speech, and the vast majority of those surveyed disagree with U.S. policies.”