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Inside the Poll of the Islamic World: Surveying Kuwait

The 2002 Gallup Poll of the Islamic World has led to an enormous amount of public discussion about the survey's findings and their implications. The survey presents the results of 10,000 hour-long, in-person, in-home interviews with scientific samplings of the adult populations of nine predominantly Islamic countries. It represents an accomplishment virtually unprecedented in several of these societies -- at least with regard to interviews covering controversial and sensitive political issues.

With regard to the poll's methodology, one of the questions that has been asked is why the sample in Kuwait included both Kuwaiti citizens and expatriates ("expats") -- people who reside in Kuwait, but do not hold Kuwaiti citizenship. Following is an interview with Richard Burkholder, Gallup's Director of International Research and a veteran of dozens of international polling projects, who explains the sampling method in Kuwait, and sheds some light on the results there.

Q: In the 2002 Gallup Poll of the Islamic World, your sample in Kuwait included both Kuwaiti citizens and "expats" (expatriates) who reside in Kuwait, but do not hold Kuwaiti citizenship. Why is that?

A: In Kuwait, expats make up over half the country's resident population -- 59% of the total society's adult population. Those holding Kuwaiti citizenship are actually in the minority -- according to government estimates, they constitute only 42% of all resident adults. Had we opted not to include their views, we would have restricted our measurement to a minority of the society.

Q: Is it normal to include the views of citizens and non-citizens alike in a poll of this sort?

A: Yes, this is the norm -- not only in Kuwait, where Pan Arab Research Center (founded in 1976) has been polling the local population for more than a quarter of a century, but also in the United States. When measuring, for example, the attitudes of Los Angeles residents toward the city's school system, we do not first require respondents to provide evidence of proof of residency.

Q: Doesn't the sample's inclusion of expats -- who are not formally Kuwaiti citizens -- skew the survey's results?

A: In fact, systematically excluding the perspective of more than half the country's long-term residents would result in a far less comprehensive and representative sounding of the views of Kuwaiti society.

Q: Aren't most of these expats just living in Kuwait as temporary guests? In what sense are they an integral part of Kuwaiti society?

A: The vast majority of expats are long-term residents of Kuwait, and have been in the country for many years, decades, or even generations. Many, in fact, were born in Kuwait, but are ineligible for citizenship under Kuwaiti law because they are descended from earlier immigrants, rather than from families who lived in Kuwait many decades ago. Only a small minority will ever return to the land of their origin, and many are now no more "rooted" in that earlier homeland than, for example, third-generation Americans in 1820 would have been to England.

Q: But aren't their views systematically different from the views of those who hold citizenship? And do your findings allow you to assess the differences between those respondents who formally hold citizenship and those who don't?

A: Gallup's questionnaire included a demographic item to indicate whether the respondent held Kuwaiti citizenship, so that this issue could be assessed at the analytical stage of the project. Gallup has now analyzed the results from this hour-long survey, and has contrasted the views expressed by Kuwaiti nationals and expats, respectively. The result: on many, if not most, issues in this survey, the views of these two groups are remarkably similar.

Although Kuwaiti nationals have slightly more favorable feelings than do expats toward the U.S., for example, this difference is relatively modest (average rating of U.S. among nationals on 5-point scale: 3.0, among expats: 2.6). Kuwaiti nationals do give a significantly higher approval rating to President Bush (nationals: 4.6 on a 10-point scale, expats: 2.4), though neither group rates Bush positively. They are also more likely than are expats to see the U.S. military action in Afghanistan as being "largely" or "completely" morally justified -- though this is a minority view among both nationals and expats (nationals: 22%, expats: 12%).

However, in regard to the specific attributes they associate with the U.S., the responses of the two groups are virtually identical:"


Say they see U.S. as:

Total society












"gets provoked easily"












"high rates of crime"




"adopts biased policies in world affairs"




Kuwaiti nationals are no more likely than are expats to regard the attacks of Sept. 11 as morally unjustifiable -- in fact, they are actually slightly less likely to describe them in this way. Some 40% of those with Kuwaiti citizenship describe the attacks as either largely or completely justifiable (5-point scale), whereas 32% of expats in Kuwait take this view. In contrast, 31% of Kuwaiti nationals describe the Sept. 11 attacks as largely or completely unjustifiable, compared to 44% of expats residing in the country.

Q: How much experience does the field force that collected the data in Kuwait have with sample design in that country, and with accurately measuring the country's opinions and attitudes?

A: Pan Arab Research Center, Kuwait's most respected and experienced survey research firm, handled the interviewing in that country. Founded in Kuwait in 1976, PARC now operates full-fledged subsidiaries in seven countries throughout the region. The entire company was headquartered in Kuwait until the 1990 Iraqi invasion (PARC's headquarters are now in Dubai, U.A.E.). No firm can boast greater accumulated expertise in the measurement of Kuwaiti attitudes. PARC's current executive field manager, for example, has over two decades' tenure in the field of sample design and data collection within the Kuwaiti market.

Q: To what degree did Gallup itself monitor and supervise the interviewing within Kuwait on this survey?

A: I traveled to Kuwait to personally observe the interviewing process within the country. While there, I attended numerous in-home, in-person interviews with both Kuwaiti nationals and resident expats, in order to get a first-hand perspective on the quality and reliability of the data-collection process used for this poll.


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