The evolution of Arab public opinion research

How reliable is public opinion survey research in the Arab world?  What lessons should we draw from its findings for policy or for academic hypothesis testing? Has the proliferation of new research, of varying quality, improved the state of our knowledge? In last week’s POMEPS Conversation, I talked to Shibley Telhami about his new book, ...

How reliable is public opinion survey research in the Arab world?  What lessons should we draw from its findings for policy or for academic hypothesis testing? Has the proliferation of new research, of varying quality, improved the state of our knowledge? In last week's POMEPS Conversation, I talked to Shibley Telhami about his new book, The World Through Arab Eyes, based on a decade's worth of survey research in the region. In this week's POMEPS Conversation, I talk with the University of Michigan's Mark Tessler, one of the founders and leading scholars in the field of Arab public opinion research:

Tessler recently collected decades worth of essays based on survey research in the region into a book, Public Opinion in the Middle East.  He has trained many of the leading figures in the younger generation of political scientists using such survey research in their work.  I know that I've learned an incredible amount about how to evaluate such research from talking with Tessler over the years and reading his work. 

How reliable is public opinion survey research in the Arab world?  What lessons should we draw from its findings for policy or for academic hypothesis testing? Has the proliferation of new research, of varying quality, improved the state of our knowledge? In last week’s POMEPS Conversation, I talked to Shibley Telhami about his new book, The World Through Arab Eyes, based on a decade’s worth of survey research in the region. In this week’s POMEPS Conversation, I talk with the University of Michigan’s Mark Tessler, one of the founders and leading scholars in the field of Arab public opinion research:

Tessler recently collected decades worth of essays based on survey research in the region into a book, Public Opinion in the Middle East.  He has trained many of the leading figures in the younger generation of political scientists using such survey research in their work.  I know that I’ve learned an incredible amount about how to evaluate such research from talking with Tessler over the years and reading his work. 

Tessler is also the lead researcher for the ambitious Arab Barometer project, which has been doing in-depth, rigorous surveys of attitudes across the region in line with the other regional Barometer projects — and, crucially, making the data openly available to academic researchers. They have resisted being driven primarily by U.S. foreign policy concerns, going deeper than "how do Arabs feel about the United States?  How do they feel about Bush/Obama?  What most explains how they feel about America?" The survey work and analysis which he’s done with collaborators such as Amaney Jamal, Michael Robbins and Eleanor Gao has been crucial for our understanding of Arab attitudes towards democracy, religion, and much elseIn this conversation, Tessler talks about how public opinion survey research in the Middle East has evolved over the decades, the new research vistas which this data opens, and the continuing problems which such research faces. 

Remember, all the Middle East Channel’s POMEPS Conversations with leading Middle East scholars can be found here, and you can subscribe to the podcast here

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.