Syrian poll finds optimism for future, but little support for Assad
Protest in Baniyas, Syria (April 2011)
September 27th, 2011
01:02 PM ET

Syrian poll finds optimism for future, but little support for Assad

By CNN Sr. State Department Producer Elise Labott

Syrians have little confidence that President Bashar al-Assad's regime can solve the country's current problems, although they are optimistic about the future, a poll conducted by Pepperdine University shows.

The survey, which was conducted in conjunction with the Democracy Council of California, also found that eight out of 10 Syrians questioned want al-Assad's regime to leave power and more than seven out of 10 are more hopeful that reforms will come, in light of the uprisings in other Middle Eastern and North African countries now known as the Arab Spring.

The Democracy Council is a nonpartisan, non-profit group that promotes democracy in emerging countries. The group receives funding from the U.S. government agency USAID, although the Syria poll was not commissioned by the government. CNN obtained a copy of the survey, which will be released Wednesday.

The poll was conducted in secret due to a Syrian government ban on opinion-gathering, officials from both organizations told CNN.

"The most surprising thing about these results is that they could be collected in the first place," Angela Hawken, associate professor of Economics and Policy Analysis at Pepperdine's School of Public Policy, told CNN.

The results are the product of face-to-face interviews in Arabic by trained data collectors with 551 Syrians over the age of 18. The poll was carried out between August 24 and September 2, Hawken said.

She explained that the tense security situation in Syria, coupled with the fact that the poll was done without the permission of the government, presented many logistical challenges for the field team collecting the data. For example, she said, the team had particular difficulty interviewing women, who were less willing than men to participate. Those women who did answer the questions were less critical of the government.

Those factors also likely skewed the results somewhat.

"Those who agreed to answer a poll conducted without government approval may be more likely to express anti-government sentiments than their neighbors who refused," Hawken said, adding that it was hard to tell how representative the numbers were of overall public opinion in Syria.

"Still, we know a lot more now than we did before the survey," she said. "And, equally important, we have shown that it is possible to collect public opinion data even in very repressive countries."

Democracy Council President James Prince said the poll reflects "the deep-seated angst felt by most Syrians" about the regime and their hopes that the Arab Spring will result in better leadership in Syria.

"The Syrian people do not have confidence in the Assad regime. They no longer want to live in the Baath security state," Prince told CNN. "As in other regional countries, the Syrians are fed up with the corruption, nepotism and lack of opportunity in Syria. The people are searching for alternatives to Assad."

Despite their discontent with their government, Syrians remain optimistic, the survey found, with nine in 10 expecting the future to be better than the present.

Prince noted that the findings of the survey are consistent with polling in other countries involved in the Arab Spring, such as Tunisia and Egypt, with corruption and the lack of freedom and opportunity in people's lives driving them to look for alternatives to their government. He points to the fact that 78.3% of the Syrians surveyed feel more hopeful about the prospect for reforms in their country in light of popular movements elsewhere in the Arab world.

Prince, a leading expert on Arab civil society, has been working on democracy promotion in the Middle East for more than 20 years.

He said the poll showed that the Syrian public "has very little confidence in the Assad regime and the government in general."

A little more than 86% of the respondents judge al-Assad's performance negatively, and 88.2% do not think the current government is capable of solving the country's problems, Prince explained.

The results of the survey come as world pressure intensifies against the Syrian regime, with the imposition of more international sanctions and a renewed call by a United Nations body to bring in the International Criminal Court.

Unrest has plagued Syria for more than six months, as protesters demanding more freedom, democratic elections and an end to al-Assad's regime have been met by brute force. The government has maintained a consistent narrative: It is going after armed terrorists, who are the ones causing the problems. But opposition activists say the regime is behind a systematic, sustained slaughter of protesters and innocent civilians.

The poll found most of the Syrians questioned - 71.1% - had positive views of the protesters, and only 5.5% had negative views. A whopping 88% think that the majority of the population shares the protestors' concerns.

Two-thirds of the respondents agree that "democracy is preferable to any other form of government." But the survey found that mere reforms by the Assad regime will not placate the Syrian people. Only 11.5% want the regime to remain power and make reforms, while 87.9% think that reforms will not satisfy the protestors and 81.7% want regime change.

Filed under: Arab Spring • Assad • Syria
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Janessa Kulla

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  4. salem

    If the poll was conducted in secret ,Fact raised an important question about the credibility of the poll
    . This means that the pollsters have avoided interviewing pro-Syrian president
    And therefore, How we consider how this poll for the opinion of all the Syrian people

    October 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  5. liz48

    How reliable are the pollsters? I am from a non-US, Asian nation and have been a part of such polls. I personally know of situations where the pollsters entered fictitious names or entered in fictitious data. They were paid for the number of interviews they conducted and were often indifferent to the integrity of the data collected.

    The situation was exacerbated when a western foreign organization was conducting the polls. The tendency of the poll organizers was to trust the pollsters and to have very little or no monitoring of the integrity of the polls.

    September 30, 2011 at 10:00 am | Reply
  6. Cocopuf

    What really irks me is that Assad seem to be getting away with murdering all these people while Kakaduffy is wanted by the Hague? I don't see ANY difference between the two when it comes to being leaders of a country.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:17 am | Reply
    • liz48

      The difference is Israel....

      September 30, 2011 at 10:01 am | Reply
      • liz48

        The difference is Israel and Obama's intentions for the Arab spring...check how Mubarak's departure affected Egypt's attitude to Israel....

        If democracy was the key reason for intervention in Egypt and Libya, Syria is a howling shame....

        September 30, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  7. hkhoury

    The Syrians have taken the decision to close a page in their history and open a new one. The Syrian people correctly have understood that "No one puts a piece of new cloth on an old garment."

    September 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  8. Tony


    September 28, 2011 at 9:57 am | Reply
  9. The Real Syrian

    As a Syrian, this poll does not mean anything to me. They probably went to some opposition meeting and asked those people to answer the survey. We all know the one-sided negative role Western media, in particular CNN, is playing in these events.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:57 am | Reply
    • More real than the real Syrian

      As a Syrian, this pool says a lot to me. Bashar must go and Bashar's regime will end soon.
      If anything is wrong about this pool it would be the missing voice of the majority of people that are against the regime.

      September 28, 2011 at 8:29 am | Reply
    • Another Syrian

      The problem with the obviously very few remaining supporters of the regime like yourself is that you still accuse everything that doesn't reflect your point of view of being a conspiracy, wrong, or skewed. This is not such a bad thing for the rest of the Syrians who want the tyranny out and want democracy for our people because all you do by that is alienate yourselves more and convince the remaining suspicious percentage of the population that the nonsense the regime is pushing out is not true and that this regime should go.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • Yet another Syrian

      I also agree...this poll means nothing...i don't live in Syria (but in an Arab country)...and all the other syrians I know.. poor and rich, Muslim or Christian support the current regime (if only because of the probable chaos and violence to follow in the power vacuum the west is selling as "freedom") say the results are skewed is a HUGE understatement!

      September 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Reply
      • A syrian

        Well sir, it seems you know all the wrong Syrians

        September 29, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • 2011cnn2011

      Death to assad!!

      October 1, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
  10. Khalil

    Syrians have great confidence that President Bashar al-Assad and the syrian Army can solve the country's current problems. And we believe that President Bashar al-Assad's and the syrian Army can win the war againest the Islamic Terrorists who are killing innocent civilians and security members and soldiers. Go On Bashar and Syrian Army All honest Syrians in the World with you. God bless you.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:44 am | Reply
    • 2011cnn2011

      who do you think your fooling?

      October 1, 2011 at 11:01 am | Reply
  11. tutuvabene

    I would think that only those with the courage to express their opinion, mostly those who would be anti-Assad, would be willing to participate in the poll, and, then, only anonymously at that. Obviously, the Syrian army was not polled. How was the poll conducted, with disguised interviewers going to safe houses where anti-government activists hide out?

    September 28, 2011 at 7:44 am | Reply
  12. Tormolinos

    Down the toilet with Bashar Al-Assa-hole regime.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:05 am | Reply
  13. hairy tiger

    how stupid you are CNN to publish such an unreliable poll as you mention that most who accept to answer where against regim so normally the results are for their side. the poll did not mention areas where poll has occured. CNN only want to fill up pages to her internet site. stupid

    September 28, 2011 at 5:39 am | Reply
  14. ban the koran

    fuck syria...let it burn....thats what they get for laughing after 911
    let those cocksucker muslims kill each other
    muhamed sucks cocks in hell

    September 28, 2011 at 4:19 am | Reply
    • Watching you

      Watch your language ignoramus

      September 28, 2011 at 6:41 am | Reply
  15. Nada

    Why not remove phony king of Saudi Arabia ? Why the oil money ( 1000 mile from Mecca) from Shia tribal area be deposited in (Sunni) his bank account.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:03 am | Reply
  16. Nada

    An offer of trade-off to US from Saudi. Saudi oil for head of Assad. Bring Syria in Sunni camp under Saudi control.

    September 28, 2011 at 3:56 am | Reply
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  18. maraj

    The world watches and does polls while the massacre continues.

    September 28, 2011 at 12:34 am | Reply
  19. sdrgfg

    was the the poll taken with a laminated picture card? If not, it is invalid.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  20. Iranisgayest

    Poor Syria no one wants to help..screw em. either that or arm the protesters.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  21. canadiansyrian

    it a joke isnt it ?
    After 40 years of one family Mafia rule dictatership , NO one should`ve spent a cent on polls asking people what do you think of someone who ruled you for 40 years.

    its like asking a hostage what he/she think about the one who kidnaped you , do you like him or hate him ?

    September 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  22. johnrender

    once a poll in europe show that most people thinks that United States is the most dangerous nation on earth. but i dont think this kind of poll would appear here on CNN...

    September 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  23. Tim

    I agree that the predominant skewing factor in a poll like this (fear of retribution) tilts the poll in favor of Pro-government responses. Although the group conducting the poll can be assumed to have an inherent interest in one outcome over the other, if their surveyors are properly trained and the right questions are asked in the right way, the responses they receive will not be biased based on the framing of the questions.

    My initial reaction, even given the overwhelming majority who no longer want Assad or his regime, is that anti-government sentiment is still underrepresented. One has to ask why the government is so afraid of "opinion gathering".

    September 27, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  24. Aleksandr

    The results r biased towards the protestors.

    We must always look at the source when evaluating poll data. And in this case the administrator of the poll is the "Democracy Council" which works to 'promote democracy' in third world countries.

    Naturally, such a group would oppose Assad inherently, thus they'll likely interview people thought likely to support the opposition and then project them as the average Syrian opinion... which they are not.

    Such a poll is useless

    September 27, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  25. Nawar

    If the results were skewed, they were likely skewed in favor of the government as people are generally afraid to express anti-government opinions. Pro-Assad people will not shy from expressing their opinion and loyalty to the regime. In other words, "more than 8 of 10" is a conservative estimate and the true number is probably more than 90%.

    September 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply

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