By Ben Flanagan
Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia significantly boosted support for the US president among residents of the Kingdom, a YouGov poll shows.
More than half of the 507 people questioned said the trip in May improved bilateral ties.
Trump’s visit, during which a raft of business and arms deals was signed, was seen as a hugely significant show of support for Saudi Arabia. It was his first trip abroad since taking office in January.
Around a quarter of residents in the Kingdom questioned by YouGov said the visit positively affected their impression of Trump, compared to 38 percent who said the visit made no difference.
Only 10 percent said the visit had a negative impact on their impression of him, while 29 percent said they did not know or were not sure.
A survey by Arab News and YouGov conducted before the US election found extremely low levels of support for Trump in Saudi Arabia.
The previous poll, dating back to October, found that only 8 percent of people in the Kingdom would have voted for Trump in the US election if given the chance, compared to 41 percent for Hillary Clinton.
But public opinion of Trump in Saudi Arabia has now improved, with 23 percent of those polled in May saying they would vote for him, compared to 22 percent for Clinton, and 55 percent saying they would not vote if given the chance.
The latest poll, conducted on May 25-29, found that 57 percent of residents believe Trump’s visit to the Kingdom has had a positive impact on US-Saudi ties and will strengthen them going forward.
Only 4 percent said it would weaken relations, while 14 percent said it would have “no impact.” A quarter said they did not know or were not sure.
Commenting on the findings, Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, said: “The results prove what we have always argued, that in politics actions speak louder than words. While Mr. Trump had a bumpy ride with public opinion during the campaign period, his actions when it comes to the Middle East have been incredibly spot on, particularly when he took immediate action when the Syrian regime used chemical weapons.”
Abbas added: “The excellent speech President Trump gave in Riyadh at the Arab-Islamic-American Summit — where he spoke of partnership, of a joint enemy in terrorism that threatens everyone — and his statement that the US is not there to dictate a way of life but to offer a helping hand have done a lot to boost his image in the region, to the extent that people barely remember his pre-election rhetoric.”
Kailash Nagdev, managing director for YouGov in the Middle East and North Africa, agreed that Trump’s visit had clearly boosted public opinion of him in Saudi Arabia.
The visit to the region “is seen as a big step forward in bridging the divide that was created during the divisive presidential campaign,” Nagdev told Arab News.
“The media campaign in Saudi Arabia during and post his visit seems to have worked, improving his overall image.”
Nagdev pointed to a previous Economist/YouGov poll, conducted last week among US residents, which found that 44 percent of Americans consider Saudi Arabia an “ally” or “friendly” toward the US, an improvement on the same study conducted two weeks prior to Trump’s visit.
The latest YouGov poll found that respondents in Saudi Arabia were generally undecided as to what was the most important announcement made during Trump’s visit.
But they ranked the $110 billion US-Saudi arms deals first, followed by the raft of corporate deals signed, and the launch of the global center to combat terrorism.
“Given the economic diversification agenda related to Saudi Vision 2030, US support to these initiatives is considered important,” said Nagdev.
“Hence it is not surprising that the announcements related to the economy were considered most important by 39 percent of residents, while the announcements related to terrorism and on (the) warning to Iran were rated high by 26 percent of residents.”
Arab News, the Middle East’s leading international English-language daily, recently entered an exclusive partnership with the globally acclaimed online polling firm YouGov.
The deal will see YouGov conduct regular polls relating to the Middle East and North Africa, which will help shed light on regional sentiment toward international events, as well as producing credible research on international opinion of Arab affairs.
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