International Survey Capability


Project Details


In order to better understand the motivations of terrorists as well as the basis for support for terrorist groups around the world, START collected an array of international survey research data from individuals in countries that have demonstrated a perceptible level of anti-U.S. sentiment. These data help to generate a more accurate picture of attitudes and beliefs about the use of terror, about the United States and its policies, and about ways to address public support for anti-U.S. attitudes and actions. Surveys were conducted in select countries which meet two essential criteria: (1) countries where there is evidence of recruitment for terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaida or groups seeking to attack U.S. interests; and (2) countries where it is possible to conduct polling without excessive government censorship and where the security situation permits polling. In Years 1 and 2, these surveys were conducted using randomly selected samples of between 800 and 1,000 adults in each of three countries using face-to-face procedures appropriate to each population as practiced by leading international survey agencies located in each country.  The topics addressed in the focus groups and surveys include views of globalization and modernization, attitudes towards social and political institutions, perceptions of the United States and its foreign-policy intentions, and levels of approval or disapproval for the goals and methods of terrorist groups.


Primary Findings:

Funding for this project supported two waves of international surveys in Muslim-majority countries. Wave 1 of surveys was conducted and analyzed between January 2005 and May 2008, while Wave 2 was conducted and analyzed between June 2008 and November 2009. Findings from these surveys include:

  • Large majorities of the public in countries surveyed denounce attacks on American citizens, whether in the United States or in a Muslim country. As a general principle, large majorities also reject the use of violent methods such as bombings and assassinations to achieve political goals.
  • Majorities endorse al-Qaida's goal of pushing the United States to remove all of its military forces from Muslim countries and also oppose the presence of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf. Even if the governments of majority Muslim states request U.S. troops, most of the public oppose their presence.
  • Significant numbers of those polled, and majorities in some nations, approve of attacks on U.S. troops based in Muslim countries.
  • Publics in the Muslim world perceive the United States as seeking to weaken and divide Islam and to maintain control over Middle East oil. Less than half perceive the United States as seeking to protect them from extremists or as genuinely trying to promote democracy. Most believe that the United States is seeking to further the expansion of Israel, while views are mixed on whether the Unied States is seeking to bring about a Palestinian state.
  • Views of the U.S. government are quite negative. The United States is seen as failing to abide by international law, being disrespectful of the Muslim people, and using its power in a coercive fashion. Views of the American people and public are not as negative as for the American government, but are still largely negative.
  • Views of al-Qaida are complex. Majorities agree with al-Qaida's goals to change U.S. behavior in the Muslim world, to promote Islamist governance, and to preserve and affirm Islamic identity. However, only minorities say that they approve of al-Qaida's attacks on Americans, as well as al-Qaida's goals, suggesting that many feel ambivalence toward this organization.

In Wave 1 national probability surveys were conducted in Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan during late 2006 and early 2007. In Wave 2, national surveys were conducted between July and September, 2008 in Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan which measured the public's attitudes on a large number of issues potentially related to terrorism against Americans. The questionnaire consisted of over 100 items developed by five different groups of researchers from the University of Maryland, Bryn Mawr, the University of Wisconsin, and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). The other research groups drew upon the data from the surveys to test theories about terrorism that are in addition to the findings reported here. A substantial number of questions were repeated across the two waves which enabled both replication of findings and comparisons over time. In addition, results from surveys not funded by START conducted in Azerbaijan, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Turkey, and Nigeria (Muslim respondents) provide additional comparisons to the START findings. The overall project resulted in a report on the nature of attitudes toward America in the Muslim world.


Project Period: