Face-Off with Iran: Muslim and Non-Muslim Publics Take Sides
In the October issue of Public Opinion Pros, Al Richman took a comprehensive look at American attitudes toward Iran. In this month's POP, he continues his exploration of opinion regarding Iran and related issues with a comparison of views held by Muslim-majority, Muslim-minority, and non-Muslim publics in several regions of the world.
The Pew Research Center’s fifteen-country survey in March-May 2006 reveals sharp contrasts in how different foreign publics view the United States and U.S. foreign policies, Iran and its acquisition of nuclear weapons, and Islamic extremism. The Pew survey offers a rare simultaneous examination of views on these issues from several important groups of foreign publics (including Muslim-majority, Muslim-minority, and non-Muslim publics in several regions), as well as the U.S. public. In this article, we bring together and examine four sets of findings from the survey:
- The polarization of Muslim attitudes toward Iran and the United States, and the contrasting pro-U.S. tilt among most non-Muslim publics surveyed;
- Distinctions foreign publics make in their images of U.S. foreign policies and the American people, and the recent erosion of the U.S. image in Spain and Turkey;
- Muslim and non-Muslim opinion on Iran’s nuclear program and Islamic extremism; and
- The American public as an outlier among the fifteen publics surveyed by the Pew Center.
Each of the five Muslim-majority and four Muslim-minority publics surveyed by Pew viewed Iran much more favorably than the United States, averaging about a 60 percent to 30 percent majority favorable toward Iran and about a 70 percent to 25 percent majority unfavorable toward the United States. As Figure 1a and 1b show, the contrast between Muslim views of Iran and the United States were sharpest in Indonesia and among the Muslim minorities in Britain and Spain, where majorities of two-thirds or more were positive toward Iran, and similar majorities were negative toward the United States.
The reverse was true to a lesser extent for most of the nine non-Muslim publics surveyed (excluding the United States) and shown in Figure 2.
Seven of these publics clearly viewed the United States more favorably than Iran, but only in Japan was there a majority positive toward the United States and a majority negative toward Iran. About four-fifths of the French and German publics had negative views of Iran, but three-fifths were negative also toward the United States. Spain and Russia showed hardly any difference in how positively the publics viewed the two countries. For the nine non-Muslim publics as a whole, about a two to one majority had an unfavorable opinion of Iran—a reverse of the two to one favorable views of Iran among the Muslim publics. On average, opinions of the United States were evenly divided among the nine non-Muslim publics.