The American Public and the Arab Awakening


An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that greater democracy in the Middle East would be positive for the United States. Further, a solid majority would favor this happening even if this resulted in Middle Eastern countries becoming more likely to oppose U.S. policies.

These are some of the findings of a new poll conducted by the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, directed by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull. The poll of 802 Americans was fielded April 1-5, 2011 by Knowledge Networks.  

The poll was released in conjunction with the opening of the Eighth Annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, D.C. (April 12-14).  The Forum is a joint program of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and the Foreign Ministry of Qatar. 

When asked about the impact on the United States over the next few years “if the countries of the Middle East become more democratic,” 65 percent of those surveyed said it would be mostly positive, while 31 percent believed it would be mostly negative. When asked about “the long run,” an even larger number — 76 percent — said democratization would be mostly positive for the United States. 

A majority of 57 percent reported they “would want to see a country become more democratic even if this resulted in the country being more likely to oppose U.S. policies.”  This number is up from 48 percent when PIPA asked this question in 2005. 

Americans are not entirely confident, though, that the changes occurring in the Arab world will lead to more democracy.  Fifty-one percent said they think it is likely; 47 percent were more doubtful. This divides sharply along partisan lines with two out of three Republicans pessimistic, two out of three Democrats optimistic, and independents leaning to the optimistic side.