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Egyptians Shifted to Islamist Parties as Elections Neared

Egyptians Shifted to Islamist Parties as Elections Neared

by H.A. Hellyer

ABU DHABI -- As Egypt's new parliament begins its work, Gallup surveys reveal many Egyptians went from being undecided to expressing political support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties in the weeks and months prior to the parliamentary elections. The Freedom and Justice Party, the official political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, found support among 50% of Egyptians in December. Thirty-one percent expressed support for the Nour Party, the Salafi party. The higher levels of public political support, which rose suddenly after consistent low support, do not necessarily suggest an increase in support for either party's ideology.

Egyptians who support political parties in Egypt

Estimated turnout for the three separate phases of voting over late November, December, and January varied between 40% and 65%. In the final tally, the Freedom and Justice Party won 47% of the elected seats, and the Nour Party won 24% of the elected seats. As a result, a majority of members in the parliament that convened this week represented one of these two Islamist parties.

It is important to note that electoral support for the parties is not mutually exclusive. Many Egyptians may have simultaneously voted for both parties, voting for members of different parties depending on what type of seat they were running for.

Gallup's surveys also indicate that levels of antipathy toward these parties remains substantial -- more than 4 in 10 Egyptians do not support the Freedom and Justice Party, and a clear majority (58%) do not support the Nour Party.

Egyptians who do not support political parties in Egypt

Together, Gallup surveys show that in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary elections, fewer Egyptians were undecided than just months prior, as is typical in elections when voters are forced to choose among their options as voting day nears.

Egyptians who don't know/refused

In September 2011, 31% of Egyptians were undecided about the Freedom and Justice Party, and 36% were undecided about the Nour Party. In December, when voting began, these numbers dropped to 9% and 11%, respectively. Large majorities of Egyptians intended to vote, likely bolstered by their belief that the elections would be fair and honest.

Egyptians' Priorities Remain the Same

The same Gallup surveys that showed Egyptians shifting toward the parties found their opinions largely unchanged in terms of their views on key issues. Egyptians most often mentioned inflation/lack or shortage of money, lack of jobs/unemployment, and safety issues as the most important problem facing their families in multiple surveys through 2011, including in December. Few -- 1% or less -- mentioned moral decay. Further, despite the increase in support for the Salafi party, 95% of Egyptians in the December survey said they have confidence in al-Azhar University, an institution that is openly and historically hostile toward the Salafi movement.

When asked what are the most important challenges or issues that the next government should address when it takes office, respondents in December referred primarily to employment/employing youth, the economy/cost of living increase, and security/stability -- essentially the same top issues they said were facing their families. These were the three most important priorities for supporters of the most liberal party on the Egyptian political spectrum (the Free Egyptians Party), the most socially conservative one (Nour Party), and Egyptians at large.


The parliamentary election results in Egypt provide many lessons for Egyptian political forces. Large numbers of previously undecided Egyptians decided to vote for Islamist political parties, even though the most important problems that Egyptians cited did not involve the implementation of Islamic law or other political demands of the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi groups. Rather, they cited more day-to-day issues such as inflation and employment. That pragmatism indicates that the country's next elections could be equally surprising -- if Egyptians believe that other political forces can address their problems more effectively, it is likely many of them will not refrain from switching their votes from one party to another.

Additionally, that pragmatism suggests that political forces in Egypt in general need to consider the grassroots relevance of their campaigns. At this early stage in Egyptian democracy, the public is looking for parties that will deliver on policies that address the Egyptian people's key concerns, and not necessarily ideology. Political parties of nearly any ideology -- Islamist, liberal, secular, leftist, or other -- have a chance to succeed, if they convince Egyptians they can actually address the the public's major concerns.

Survey Methods

Results for the most recent survey in Egypt are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,077 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Dec. 16-23, 2011. For results based on the total sample of national adults in this survey, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.4 percentage points.

Earlier surveys are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in Egypt. For results based on the total sample of national adults in these surveys, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.3 percentage points.

The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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