x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Polls provide an important window into the public mind

There is nothing more fickle, more vague, or more powerful than public opinion, Napoleon Bonaparte once said.

There is nothing more fickle, more vague, or more powerful than public opinion, Napoleon Bonaparte once said. That is why changes in opinions are so important to understand.

The rise of research into views in the region has been a welcome development. While many misunderstandings about the region persist, surveys conducted in countries from Morocco to the Emirates have shown how views on US policy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and attitudes towards a nuclear Iran, among other issues, have shifted.

Pollsters from Zogby International, the Brookings Institution and the Pew Centre are but some of the respected names that have begun to gauge regional opinion. Their polls have also provided a window into how people in the Middle East understand themselves.

The Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre, an extension of Gallup's Muslim studies centre in Washington, DC, will be the latest institution to join the effort. Gallup will join YouGov Siraj, a Dubai-based group, in establishing an on-the-ground presence in the UAE, providing more information and better tools to understand how the country is changing.

And while polls help to fill gaps in information, polling organisations also provide a service beyond completing surveys and providing information. Their workshops and seminars will add to the UAE's intellectual vigour and complement the country's drive toward transparency that is part of the capital's strategic vision.

Establishing a presence on the ground will also allow researchers to fine-tune their methodologies: providing surveys in Arabic, for example, and finding out how to include rural and poorer populations of the region in these surveys. Online polling can also play an important role in data collection, as participants questioned face-to-face or on the phone may feel pressured to answer in a certain way.

By establishing a higher standard of research in the region, Gallup and its cohorts can collect more data and provide better analysis of a region still struggling to be understood by the international community and by its own leadership.