Saudi Arabia isn’t an easy place to gather hard data. Women are shy, men are brusque, and notions of privacy could make approaching a stranger difficult, if not dangerous. In such a traditional and closed society, there simply isn’t any precedent for allowing a stranger to nose around asking questions.
That’s what makes this survey — a poll of 1,000 representative Saudis undertaken by a U.S. firm this November — so interesting.
The numbers indicate a populous that is generally positive about the future but concerned more immediately by slipping economics and the problem of corruption. All this is generally good news for a world looking for rationality and reform out of the Islamic Kingdom. But then there’s the percentage of those polled who support Al Qaeda…
Forty percent of respondents reported their situation had deteriorated in the last year, compared to 36 percent who said things had improved.
A large percentage of both men and women see religious extremism as a problem, but the difference is telling: 48 percent of men see it as a problem while the number jumps to 59 percent for women.
Fifty-nine percent of Saudis aged 18-24 years old said the country was moving in a positive direction, compared to 51 percent those in the 55-and-over age bracket. With a quarter of the population under 24 years old and an unemployment rate that some say puts one out of three youths without a job, it’s interesting to see such optimism.
Maybe the most important fact is that a supermajority — 63 percent — said that corruption is a serious problem. As evidenced by the outpouring of anger after more than 100 Saudis died during flooding in Jeddah this winter — anger that was voiced on the youth-oriented venues of Facebook and YouTube — there’s some reason to believe that younger Saudis will not only disapprove of corruption, but make noise about it.
But at the same time, the survey revealed that one out of five respondents expressed “some support” for Al Qaeda. While it’s true that most Saudis polled didn’t express support, in a country of nearly 30 million people, that’s still a constituency for the bad guys of several million.
So how did they do the polls?
Using the so-called “hybrid” samples method, the pollsters identified 100 random households. At the end of each interview, they’d ask for a recommendation of who to call next. After the next interview, the results of which they’d actually toss, they’d ask that household for a recommendation and it is this third household they would record. This is called “referral” or “snowball” sampling.
But even with a somewhat randomized, representative sampling, polling here isn’t without quirks. According to David Pollock, those polled in the U.S. or Europe readily admit to being unfamiliar with something. In the Middle East — including Israel — survey responders are more likely to bluff, pretending they are familiar with even entirely fictitious names or concepts. (Approximately half of those polled in Egypt and Jordan, for instance, told Pollack that “George’s Sportswear” ranked alongside Crest and Xerox as an excellent and famous company.)
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