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Arab Democracy Barometer, in Partnership with the Arab Reform Initiative

The first wave of the Arab Barometer began in 2006/07 with the first round of surveys administered in seven countries.  An eighth country was surveyed in 2009. Funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Arab Barometer broke new ground in a region where systematic and rigorous politically-focused public opinion research had been extremely rare.  The surveys drew on the most advanced scientific expertise in the region and were co-directed by Arab and American specialists with a firm understanding of the Arab world (See www.arabbarometer.org). The eight countries included in the first round of the Arab Barometer are Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Bahrain, Algeria, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Yemen.   A survey was planned for Egypt as well, but this was not carried out because the necessary authorization could not be obtained.  All of the first wave surveys involved face-to-face interviews, and all used multi-stage area probability sampling to select respondents.  In two surveys, that in Algeria and that in Kuwait, quotas were used in the final stage.   All respondents are eighteen years of age or older.

The participating Arab scholars, coming from six countries, met regularly in the Middle East and the United States with the two U.S. co-PIs while the first wave of Barometer surveys was being planned and carried out.  Working as a “Governing Committee,” this group selected the topics to be investigated, the items to be used to measure each concept, and the appropriate refinements following a pretest of the survey instrument in each country.  The group also addressed other methodological issues, such as sampling and interviewer training, as well as plans for data analysis and dissemination and outreach activities.

In 2009, the data from the first wave of the Arab Barometer were made available to the scholarly and public policy communities.   They were posted for downloading, along with accompanying documentation, on the Arab Barometer website.  The data and documents were also archived and made available through the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).  ICPSR, located at the University of Michigan, is the world’s largest repository of publically-available social science data, including survey data.

In 2010, the American Political Science Association selected the Arab Barometer for its Lijphart/Przeworski/Verba Prize.  The prize recognized the Arab Barometer as the best publicly available data set in comparative politics.

In 2010/11, with funding from the United Nations Development Programme, the  International Development Research Council of Canada, and the United States Institute of Peace, and working in collaboration with the Arab Reform Initiative (ARI), second wave Arab Barometer surveys were conducted in eleven Arab countries.   Although it was not possible to conduct a second wave survey in Kuwait and Bahrain, five new countries were added to the Arab Barometer.  The second wave of the Arab Barometer thus included surveys in Algeria, Morocco, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Tunisia, and Egypt.   In several cases, particularly that of Egypt and Tunisia, recent political openings permitted the conduct of surveys that in the past had been prohibited.

The interview schedule used in the second wave was drafted at a meeting in Jordan attended by representatives of almost all the countries in which surveys were subsequently conducted.  The instrument retained many but not all of the survey items used in the first wave.  There were also a number of revisions and additions, some reflecting lessons learned during the first wave and some designed to take account of the changing political situation in the Arab world.  Additional items pertaining to the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath were asked in the Egyptian and Tunisian surveys.   As in the first wave, all of the second wave surveys involved face-to-face interviews, and all used multi-stage area probability sampling to select respondents.  

The Arab Barometer is currently governed by a Steering Committee whose members are Bassma Kodmani (ARI), Amaney Jamal (Princeton) University, Khalil Shikaki (Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research), and Mark Tessler (University of Michigan).  As in the first wave, in-country partners, for the most part based at universities, research centers, nongovernmental or private sector organizations, carried out the actual surveys.  

Arab Barometer data have been used in a number of books, chapters and journal articles.  Both Amaney Jamal and Mark Tessler have published books that included the analysis of Arab Barometer data.   Among the journals in which articles based in whole or in part on Arab Barometer data have been published are Journal of Democracy, Comparative Political Studies, Middle East Law and Governance, Foreign Affairs, and Moyen Orient.  In addition, Arab Barometer data have also been the basis for several on-line reports on Middle East Channel.   As of 2012, at least one Ph.D. dissertation had made extensive use of Arab Barometer data.    Findings based on Arab Barometer surveys have also informed scores of conference presentations and lectures at universities in the Arab world, the United States and Europe.  

Some of these publications, as well as other articles, conference papers and PowerPoint presentations, have been placed on the Arab Barometer website and may be downloaded.  The website also contains “country reports” that provide information about the survey in each country and summarize key findings.  As noted, data from the first wave of Arab Barometer surveys are available through the website as well.  The website has both an Arabic and an English section, with some documents and files available in both languages.  The website received 95,255 hits during a five month period in late 2011 and early 2012.  The average number of downloads per month during this period was 390 in English and 126 in Arabic.

The third wave of the Arab Barometer is currently underway. It is expected that the fieldwork will be completed by mid-2013. The Arab Barometer partnership with the Arab Reform Initiative, which started with the launch of the second wave of surveys, has been enriched with a partnership with the Afro Barometer. The AB team, working closely with the Afro Barometer, is currently conducting surveys in five African Arab countries (Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Sudan) that cover all questions asked in the instruments developed by the two barometers. Arab countries in Asia that were covered in the second wave will be covered in the third wave, including Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.  Like the first and second waves, the third wave seeks to measure and track over time citizen attitudes, values, and behavior patterns relating to pluralism, freedoms, tolerance and equal opportunity; social and inter-personal trust; social, religious and political identities; conceptions of governance and an understanding of democracy; and civic engagement and political participation.

It is expected that country reports covering the third wave will be published by the end of 2013 and early 2014. The operational base for the third wave is the Center for Strategic Studies in Jordan (CSS).

This third phase is funded by the Canadian International Research and Development Centre (IDRC).


Importance of the Project

There has long been dearth of systematic and rigorous empirical research on public opinion in the Arab world.  The recent expansion of political attitude research in Jordan and Palestine is a notable exception.  More generally, however, far too little is known about the nature, distribution, and determinants of the political orientations of ordinary Arab citizens.

Information about the political attitudes and values of Arab men and women is important for scientific inquiry, for the promotion of democracy, and to dispel the myths and stereotypes that hinder mutual understanding and cooperation.  More specifically, the absence of this information has contributed to three kinds of deficiencies.  First, there has been little opportunity for the views of ordinary citizens about governance to play a role in the promotion of democracy.  Second, there has been little scientific information with which to examine the conventional wisdom about the so-called “Arab Street,” particularly in Western societies.  Third, the experience of the Arab world has made no more than a minor contribution to scholarly research that seeks to develop theoretical insights about citizen attitudes and behavior that are applicable across countries and world regions. 

The project will provide data for theory-driven scholarly inquiry and will create a database that will be of great importance to both academics and policy makers who are interested in measuring cross-nationally and over time the normative and behavioral orientations of ordinary men and women in the Arab world.  In addition, ARI and the Arab Barometer will carry out specific policy outreach activities designed to share findings and insights with decision-makers as well as various members of civil society and the general public in order to inform policies and programs. 

Survey Topics 

While the methodological aspects will remain largely the same as during the first wave, the second wave of surveys will dedicate additional resources in order to expand on the sets of themes treated, including conflict and violence, and gender.  Resources will be dedicated towards understanding the ways in which conflict and war have structured the attitudes and beliefs of ordinary citizens.  This will be carried out by conducting the surveys in conflict areas (Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon) in order to compare data to other non-conflict Arab states.  In this round, we will also ask questions about Iran, possible intra-societal friction at the country-level, and more specific questions about the impact of war and conflict on the daily lives of citizens across the region.

The following is a list of topics covered in the two waves:

  • Support for Democracy
  • Support for Political Islam, Understandings and interpretations of Islam
  • Support for globalization and economic integration
  • Political interest, political knowledge and political efficacy
  • Evaluations of regimes, regime types, and political institutions
  • Civic engagement and associational life
  • Tolerance and respect for diversity
  • Perceptions of foreign role in democracy promotion
  • Political and social identity
  • Interpersonal trust
  • Religiosity, religious observance  and religious attachments
  • Attitudes toward the U.S., other countries, and Western culture
  • The status and roles of women and gender relations
  • Assessment of personal and national economic circumstances
  • Conflict and war
  • Inter-societal and Inter-societal violence and conflict
  • Security
  • Evaluation of the provision of public services (health, education) as well as well as the distribution of natural resources (water, gas) and management of revenues (oil)