Survey Attitudes in the Arab World

Back in 2017 I was awarded a grant from the Qatar National Research Fund for a study of how people in the Arab world experience and view public opinion surveys. Some of the findings have been referenced before in an article I wrote for the Washington Post on the dangerous political weaponization of survey research in the Middle East. But the first proper academic product of the study has now been published (online) in the British Journal of Political Science.

The coauthored paper examines, for the first time in an Arab country, attitudes toward public opinion surveys and their effects on survey-taking behavior. (Believe it or not, the use of surveys to measure attitudes toward surveys is a real thing, and in Western contexts such research dates to the 1950s.) A key conclusion of our study--and a surprising one perhaps--is that Arabs tend to hold quite positive views of surveys, both in absolute terms and relative to non-Arabs.

Indeed, a primary motivation of the study was the audience questions I would consistently receive while presenting survey results from Qatar and Bahrain at international survey research conferences, asking how I could possibly trust the data given (it was assumed) that Arabs are too scared or disinterested to participate and give honest answers in public opinion surveys. Our data show not only that this isn't the case, but that it is citizens of Western countries who possess some of the most negative views of surveys across different dimensions.


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