How reliable is public opinion survey research in the Arab world? What lessons should we draw from its findings for policy or for academic hypothesis testing? Has the proliferation of new research, of varying quality, improved the state of our knowledge? In last week's POMEPS Conversation, I talked to Shibley Telhami about his new book, The World Through Arab Eyes, based on a decade's worth of survey research in the region. In this week's POMEPS Conversation, I talk with the University of Michigan's Mark Tessler, one of the founders and leading scholars in the field of Arab public opinion research:
Tessler recently collected decades worth of essays based on survey research in the region into a book, Public Opinion in the Middle East. He has trained many of the leading figures in the younger generation of political scientists using such survey research in their work. I know that I've learned an incredible amount about how to evaluate such research from talking with Tessler over the years and reading his work.
Tessler is also the lead researcher for the ambitious Arab Barometer project, which has been doing in-depth, rigorous surveys of attitudes across the region in line with the other regional Barometer projects -- and, crucially, making the data openly available to academic researchers. They have resisted being driven primarily by U.S. foreign policy concerns, going deeper than "how do Arabs feel about the United States? How do they feel about Bush/Obama? What most explains how they feel about America?" The survey work and analysis which he's done with collaborators such as Amaney Jamal, Michael Robbins and Eleanor Gao has been crucial for our understanding of Arab attitudes towards democracy, religion, and much else. In this conversation, Tessler talks about how public opinion survey research in the Middle East has evolved over the decades, the new research vistas which this data opens, and the continuing problems which such research faces.
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Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.