Survey Attitudes in the Middle East: Hindrance or Help?

By Justin Gengler, Mark A. Tessler, , Jonathan Forney,
Submitted to Session P4850 (Arab public opinion research: Challenges and prospects, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab States;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The past decade has witnessed a marked expansion in the number and scope of opinion surveys being conducted in the Arab world generally, and in the Gulf region specifically. This burgeoning use of survey methods in the Gulf owes to a confluence of factors, including improved institutional capacity; a more permissive regulatory environment; the proliferation of commercial survey research firms; practical restrictions on conducting surveys elsewhere in the Arab world due to continuing political instability; and an increased desire among decisionmakers and analysts to gauge popular attitudes and understand citizen and resident behavior related to important public policy matters.

Yet, even as their frequency and scope increase, questions remain about the impact of this quite recent introduction of social scientific, health, and other surveys into a new social and cultural environment. How do Arab and Gulf Arab citizens perceive their own participation in survey research, as well as the practical results that stem from it? Are surveys viewed as a public benefit, or as burdensome and intrusive? Do these surveys serve as a reference point when Gulf publics think about popular opinion and trends in culture, health, and other domains, or are their findings largely unknown or ignored? Finally, which individual-level factors – demographic, socioeconomic, attitudinal, or experiential – help explain differences in individual orientations toward surveys?

To begin to answer these and related questions, we collect original data via nationally representative telephone and face-to-face interviews on exposure to and orientations toward surveys and survey-taking among citizens and foreign residents of the Gulf state of Qatar. We assess survey attitudes using the validated Survey Attitude Scale of De Leeuw et al. (2010), enabling both within-country cross-cultural comparison and cross-national comparison. In addition, the study includes two embedded experiments designed to understand, respectively, the factors that influence willingness to participate in surveys, including length, mode, topic, and sponsorship (Gordoni and Schmidt 2010; Corstange 2014); as well as the practical impacts of survey attitudes and perceived survey burden on survey-taking itself, especially early termination and data falsification. Beyond their scholarly contributions, all results have important implications for data quality in survey-based research conducted in the region.

To our knowledge, this study represents the first systematic assessment of experience with and attitudes toward surveys in an Arab country.