December 30, 2015 | By Karl Friedhoff

Middle East Polling Roundup


In the aftermath of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino shooting, US media outlets have focused on heightened American anxiety about terrorism. Yet publics in the Middle East have expressed high levels of concern since before the fall of Mosul in June 2014. We have gathered the most notable public opinion polls—presented in roughly reverse chronological order—conducted in the region regarding ISIS in 2014 and 2015.

We should note, first and foremost, that not all of the polls below have disclosed their complete methodologies, and some organizations provide their results only in presentations, rather than more detailed topline reports. That caveat aside, the results in these surveys are both interesting and highly relevant for policymaking in the region.

Widespread majorities throughout the Middle East oppose the Islamic State. More and more Arabs view ISIS as the biggest threat to their security and believe their government should prioritize fighting the group. However, the most recent polls show that publics there are divided over whether to support or oppose airstrikes by the US-led coalition. In fact, many in those two countries blame the United States for the emergence of ISIS. A dangerous new development has occurred, though—residents of Mosul increasingly support ISIS and feel it represents their interests.

The Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies [June 2014; June 2015; December 2015] 1

  • 120 face-to-face quota snowballing interviews in Mosul in December 2015.
  • 200 face-to-face snowballing samples in Mosul and Anbar in June 2015.
  • 200 face-to-face simple random sampling in Mosul in June 2014.
Key Findings:
  • Those in Mosul increasingly feel ISIS represents their interests. As of December 2015, four in ten (39%) say ISIS represents their views and interests, compared to only one-quarter (26%) in June 2015 and one in ten (10%) in June 2014.
  • As of December 2015, more than half in Mosul (55%) think life is better today than it was 18 months ago—42% think it is worse. In June 2015, just one in five (21%) said life was better than 18 months ago compared to three-quarters (77%) who said it was worse.
  • Still, six in ten (57%) prefer ISIS leave Mosul forever. But four in ten (39%) prefer ISIS maintain control over the city.
  • Residents of Mosul lack confidence in the alternatives to ISIS: 82% lack confidence in the Iraqi parliament, 60% lack confidence in the Iraqi army, and 68% lack confidence in the Iraqi police.
  • American and coalition air attacks are viewed as the biggest threat to residents’ families’ security at this time (46%), followed by the security forces of ISIS (38%).
Zogby [September 2015] 2

  • Face-to-face interviews with 7,400 adults in Egypt (1,030), Lebanon (823), Jordan (822), Iraq (1,033), Saudi Arabia (1,035), the UAE (832), Turkey (1,037), and Iran (1,027) in September 2015.
Key Findings:
  • Majorities in every country view ISIS as a serious problem (100% in Egypt, 100% in the UAE, 95% in Turkey, 88% in Saudi Arabia, 76% in Iraq, 74% in Iran, 65% in Jordan, and 58% in Lebanon).
  • Six in ten in Iraq (61%) and more than three-quarters in every other country surveyed believes ISIS plays a significant role in causing conflict in Iraq.
  • Three in four Iraqi Shias (74%) and six in ten Iraqi Kurds (60%) say Sunni extremist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS are a significant factor in causing the conflict in Iraq, but only three in ten Iraqi Sunnis (29%) agree.
  • Nine in ten Iraqis (88%) lack confidence in ISIS, including three-quarters (74%) of Iraqi Sunnis.
  • More than three-quarters in every country surveyed say extremist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS play a significant role in causing conflict in Syria. A similar proportion in every country except Iran says the same of President Bashar al Assad. More than three-quarters (77%) of Iranians say that Assad’s role is not significant in causing conflict in Syria.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan) [September 2015] 3

  • A nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults each in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, and Jordan in September 2015.
Key Findings:
  • More than nine in ten in all four countries have a negative view of ISIS (92% in Saudi Arabia, 93% in Egypt, 96% in Kuwait, 92% in Jordan).
  • ISIS is viewed more negatively than Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Iran, Assad, the United States, and Russia (among others) in all four countries (except in Jordan, where Iran and Assad are viewed equally as badly as ISIS). While opposition to ISIS is unanimous, opinions of other actors differ.
  • A plurality in Egypt and Kuwait believe the fight against ISIS should be their government’s biggest priority. Jordanians say the government’s top priority should be the conflict between Iran and Arab countries.
  • Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, Kuwaitis, and Jordanians prefer diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian civil war to military intervention.
ORB International/The Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies [June 2015; June-July, 2015]

  • Syria (June 10-July 2, 2015): A nationally representative sample of 1,365 adults across all 14 governorates throughout Syria, including those in ISIS, al-Nusra, and Kurdish territories.
  • In ISIS territory, pollsters asked the heads of towns for permission to randomly interview people, which was approved as long as they did not represent international media or record the interviews.
  • Iraq (June 4-22, 2015): A representative sample of 1,234 adults across nine of Iraq’s 18 governorates—Ninevah, Kirkuk, Salah al-din, Anbar, Diyala, Baghdad, Babil, Wasit, and Basrah. However, it did not cover the three Kurdish regions, nor six predominately Shia southern regions of Iraq (Dhi Qar, Al Diwaniyah, Karbala, Maysin, Muthana, Najaf).
Key Findings in Syria:
  • Three-quarters (76%) believe ISIS has a negative influence on their country. One in five (21%) believe the influence is positive.
  • Support for Assad is evenly split (47% positive influence, 50% negative influence). Six in ten (57%) believe their country is heading in the wrong direction, while four in ten (37%) believe their country is heading in the right direction.
  • Eight in ten (82%) blame the United States for the rise of ISIS. Less than one-fourth (22%) blame sectarian conflict in Syria for the rise of ISIS.
  • Syrians are split in their support of airstrikes by the US-led coalition against ISIS (47% support, 50% oppose).
Key Findings in Iraq:
  • Nine in ten (93%) view ISIS’ influence in the country negatively. Two-thirds (66%) believe their country is heading in the wrong direction, while only one-fourth (25%) say it is heading in the right direction.
  • Nine in ten (85%) believe ISIS is “American-made”.4 Three-quarters also say that sectarian conflict in Syria and Iraq (75%) and poor policies by the Iraqi government caused the rise of ISIS, particularly former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (71%).
Pew Global Attitudes Survey [April-May 2015]

  • Face-to-face interviews in Lebanon (1,000), Israel (1,000), Jordan (1,000), the Palestinian territories (1,000), and Turkey (947) in April-May 2015.
Key Findings:
  • In seven of the eleven countries surveyed, at least seven in ten hold negative views of ISIS. Negative responses are highest in Lebanon (100%), Israel (97%), and Jordan (94%), and lowest in Pakistan (28%).
Concern about ISIS varies greatly in intensity. Large majorities of publics in Lebanon (84%) and Jordan (62%) say they are very concerned about ISIS, as are just over half in the Palestinian territories (54%). But only minorities in Israel (44%) and Turkey (33%) say they are very concerned. Similarly, the Lebanese express the most concern over Islamic extremism (67%) and the Turkish the least concern (19%), with Palestinians (40%), Israelis (37%), and Jordanians (27%) in between. But roughly half or more of people across all the countries surveyed say they are at least somewhat concerned about Islamic extremism in their country.

About the Coauthor

Alex Lederman is currently a junior at Northwestern University majoring in journalism and political science and minoring in Middle East and North African Studies.
[1] For an earlier version of this survey, see here [PDF].
[2] For the 2014 version of the report, see here [PDF].
[3] For an earlier version of this survey, see here [PDF].
[4] The use of “American-made” here reflects the question wording.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


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