Arabs from Iraq to Tunisia are closely following the U.S. presidential election, and most want Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to win the race, believing she'll have the most positive impact on U.S. policy toward their region, a new survey indicated.
The survey of eight leading Arab nations conducted by the Arab Center in Washington found 66 percent of Arabs preferred that Clinton become the next U.S. president, while just 11 percent preferred Republican Donald Trump. It polled 400 adults each in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia from Oct. 21 to Oct. 31 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center, told a briefing the findings were representative of public opinion in the 22 predominantly Arab countries in the world.
The poll found that about 60 percent of Arabs followed the U.S. presidential race on a regular or occasional basis, with 56 percent holding positive views of Clinton and 60 percent holding negative views of Trump.
"The United States gets a lot of attention in the Middle East, and in a presidential [election] year, people pay much more attention," said Imad Harb, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington.
There were some sharp though not surprising variations from country to country.
In Tunisia, where Clinton is popular for her support of the country's democratic transition during the 2011 Arab Spring, 65 percent of the public held a positive view of the former secretary of state and 76 percent wanted her to win. On the other hand, Palestinians, who view Clinton as pro-Israel, held the most negative views of her, at 54 percent. Nevertheless, 59 percent of Palestinians preferred her to Trump.
In Tunisia, Clinton is "looked at as someone who really effected some positive democratic changes," Harb said. However, to the Palestinians, Clinton's commitment to "their rights" remains in question.
The survey asked respondents whether they thought the U.S. election would have an impact on U.S. foreign policy in general and on U.S. policy in the Arab world. Thirty-five percent said they thought there would be some change to U.S. foreign policy and 33 percent said the same about U.S. policy in the Arab world.
On U.S. policy toward the region, 55 percent thought Clinton would have the most positive impact, compared with just 14 percent who thought Trump's policy would be positive.
The survey gauged public expectations of the elections on a range of issues affecting the Arab world, from democratic transition to regional stability.
Forty-three percent thought a Clinton victory would increase support for democracy in Arab countries, while 51 percent said it would contribute somewhat or greatly to increased security and stability in the region.
Forty-seven percent of all poll respondents said a Trump presidency would not contribute either to democratic development or security in the region, while 39 percent said it would lead to increased anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia around the world.
Critical of U.S. foreign policy
Respondents were asked about issues the next U.S. president should focus on in formulating policy toward the Arab region. Twenty-six percent said the U.S. "should not intervene in the affairs of Arab countries" — a higher percentage than any other question — while 25 percent said combating the Islamic State group should be next president's priority for the region.
"This is highly significant and reflective of the general sentiment in the Arab world," Jahshan said of the public preference for U.S. noninterference in Arab affairs. " 'Leave us alone' was the message."
Mirroring other polls conducted in the Arab world, the survey found that criticism of U.S. foreign policy continued to run deep in the region.
Sixty-seven percent of Arabs held a negative or somewhat negative attitude toward U.S. policy in the region, with Palestinian and Algerian respondents holding the most negative views at 78 percent. Iraqis, Moroccans and Tunisians expressed the most positive views of U.S. foreign policy.
At the same time, 72 percent of those polled expressed positive views of the American people, with Kuwaitis holding the most positive views at 82 percent.
Harb said the Arab public views U.S. policy toward the region in economic terms.
"The issue of change or not change is not quite there yet," he said. "[Arabs] are trying to see if there is going to be a change, whether it's only going to be reflecting American economic interests or it's going to reflect a change in American foreign policy towards an understanding of other people and understanding of other nations."