By Arab News
By Ben Flanagan
Most Arab citizens believe Hillary Clinton to be the best choice for US president — but are aligned with Donald Trump on some of his most controversial stances, a wide-ranging Arab News/YouGov poll has found.
The survey of 3,017 people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) found that, were they given the chance to vote, 47 percent would snub both candidates — suggesting widespread dissatisfaction with the election frontrunners.
Clinton emerged as the most popular of the two candidates, with 44 percent of Arab respondents saying they would vote for her, and 78 percent saying she would be the best for the Arab world.
The Democratic candidate’s stance on climate change, immigrants in the United States, and US Israel policy found special support among citizens of the Middle East and North Africa, the poll found.
Trump won just 9 percent of respondents’ support in the MENA-wide public opinion survey. But the candidate’s often divisive stance on border controls and abortion proved popular in the region — suggesting the lack of support for Trump has more to do with personality than politics.
Further evidence of this is that people in the region were split equally over the Republican and Democratic candidates’ viewpoints on the issues of the war in Syria and Iran nuclear deal.
Despite almost half the people questioned saying that they would not vote even if given the chance, the Arab News/YouGov US election MENA poll found that there was widespread interest in the Nov. 8 showdown, with 78 percent saying the result would have a direct impact on the region.
“There is little enthusiasm for either candidate but 78 percent believe Clinton would be better for the Arab world if elected as president versus 22 percent for Trump,” said Stephan Shakespeare, the chief executive of YouGov.
“But on abortion and security, the majority of Arab opinion backs Trump over Clinton. It is not unreasonable to assume that this support would extend to other important social issues.”
Trump’s controversial statements, including a proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, appear to have greatly impacted public opinion in the Arab world.
Almost three quarters of respondents to the poll said they were “dissatisfied” or “upset” with Trump, with just 12 percent saying they are “enthusiastic” or “satisfied”.
The view toward Clinton was more favorable, with 49 percent saying they are “enthusiastic” or “satisfied” with the candidate, compared to the 29 percent who said they are “dissatisfied” or “upset”.
But when questioned about Trump’s key policies — although without the candidate being named — Arab audiences broadly agreed with his stance on abortion and security and border controls.
Nine in 10 said that they did not mind extra border restrictions or measures if they felt their country’s security was under threat from a certain nationality or group. This marks an irony given the uproar over Trump’s remarks regarding Muslims entering the US, some commentators said.
Arab opinion on the war in Syria and ISIS was however more divided.
The Arab News/YouGov poll found that 46 percent of respondents believe the US should send troops to fight ISIS in the region and collaborate closely with Russia on solving the Syrian crisis. But 54 percent said the US should be more involved in the humanitarian efforts for Syrian refugees, arm moderate groups and increase air strikes on ISIS and Syria — but not send in ground troops.
The respondents were similarly split over whether the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers including the US should be annulled.
Writing in today’s Op-Ed pages, Arab News Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas commented on the poll saying that it reveals “interesting findings regarding the hearts and minds of Arabs.”
Abbas argues that when it comes to who the next US president is going to be, there is a growing feeling in the Arab world that actions speak louder than words, regardless of who wins the next election.
Experts based in the United States, commenting on the Arab News/YouGov poll, agreed that there are mixed feelings toward the two US presidential frontrunners within the Arab world.
Andrew Bowen, Global Fellow for the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in the United States, said that he had heard positive sentiment about both candidates. But business people and policymakers in the Gulf and Egypt, he said, are saying particularly positive things about Trump.
“They view Trump as a change, while they see Hillary as the status quo. They see Trump as a businessman who can shake things up, recast things.”
But Lee Smith, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in the United States, said that he could see how Trump attracted just 9 percent support in the poll given the candidate’s previous outspoken remarks.
“(In light of) Trump’s comments regarding Muslim immigration … and how many Muslims around the region look up to the United States and admire it, I can certainly see how those comments could come, at the very least, as a surprise,” he said.