Saudi PR Effort Not Affecting U.S. Public Opinion

Posted December 5, 2003 at 11:33am

Despite efforts to improve its image in America, Saudi Arabia apparently still has some work to do.

[IMGCAP(1)] Sixty-one percent of Americans said that Saudi Arabia is better described as being a part of the problem in the war on terrorism, according to a Nov. 18-19 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll.

Thirteen percent said the country was part of the solution. Seventeen percent said they trusted Saudi Arabia to be an ally of the United States in the war on terror and 66 percent did not, a response virtually unchanged from May.

The government of Saudi Arabia paid about $15 million in the second half of 2002 for an extensive lobbying and public relations campaign designed to persuade the Bush administration, Congress and the American people that the Islamic kingdom is an ally, and not an adversary, in its counterterrorism efforts.

But the recent poll showed that 55 percent favored breaking off all diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia if it is proven that the Saudis are funding terrorist schools anywhere in the world (35 percent were opposed).

Sixty-eight percent favored putting much stronger pressure on Saudi Arabia to give the U.S. military and intelligence agencies total access inside their country (20 percent were opposed). Eighty-five percent favored increasing research into alternative energy to reduce U.S. dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.

Moral Uplift. Each year since 1997, Harris Interactive has asked people whether they feel good about various things in this country and in their own lives. In the latest mid-October poll, 47 percent said they felt good about the morals and values of Americans in general. That’s up from 34 percent who gave that response in 1997.

Follow the Money. When told by the Los Angeles Times interviewers in mid-November that presidential candidate Howard Dean (D) had declined federal matching funds to remain competitive against President Bush, 71 percent of Democratic primary and caucus-goers said his action would make no difference to their vote.

Sixteen percent said it would make them more likely to vote for him and 16 percent less likely. The results were very similar for Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who has also declined funding (72 percent, 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

Personal Retirement Accounts. Gallup, CNN and USA Today updated its trend question on personal retirement accounts in October, finding that 62 percent favored a proposal “to allow people to put a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts that would be invested in private stocks and bonds.” Thirty-four percent opposed the proposal.

Support for the idea dipped to 52 percent in September 2002. In June 2000, the first time the question was asked by Gallup, 65 percent were in favor.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.