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Poll: Egyptian Public’s Views Toward United States Are Much Improved

Understandably, there’s been a lot of concern about what sort of regime might replace Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, if a new one replaces it at all.

How friendly might a new regime be toward the United States, for instance? No one certainly can predict that.

What does appear to be the case, however, is that Egyptian popular opinion toward the United States has substantially improved over the course of the past 2 to 3 years, to the point that a new leader would probably not gain any points by expressing anti-American sentiment.

The BBC World Service conducts an annual survey in 28 countries, in which it asks participants how they feel about each of the others. The BBC has interviewed Egyptians as part of its survey since 2007.

Egyptian sentiment toward the United States has improved dramatically since the survey began. In 2007, just 11 percent of Egyptians said they viewed the United States as having a “mostly positive” influence, versus 59 percent who said it had a “mostly negative” influence. The numbers were even worse the next year: 16 percent positive, but 73 percent negative.

The election of President Obama created a major change in opinion, however. In 2009, positive opinions about the United States rose to 40 percent against 48 percent negative. And last year — the first survey conducted after Mr. Obama’s well-received June 2009 speech in Cairo — positive opinions became the plurality, at 45 percent, against 29 percent negative views, figures comparable to those for survey participants in the United Kingdom and France. Although opinion about the United States has also improved in most other countries since Mr. Obama’s election, according to the survey, in perhaps no case has the change been quite so dramatic.

The BBC surveys use face-to-face interviews in Egypt, as is common in developing countries. There are places in the world where it can be difficult to elicit honest opinions about political matters, although unless something dramatic had changed in the survey methodology between 2007 and 2010, there is no particular reason to doubt that there has been a significant shift in opinion.

Who doesn’t the Egyptian public like? Israel. In the 2010 poll, just 3 percent of Egyptians had a positive opinion about it versus 92 percent unfavorable; these were the worst grades for Israel of any country included in the survey.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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