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Category: Guest Features

Several Facebook polls on the Syrian crisis have been conducted over the past year, eliciting widespread responses among Syrian and Arab Facebook users. While sample sizes vary, many are much larger than regular online polls thereby ensuring representativeness of the sample, at least among Facebook users. It is worth noting here that Facebook polls prevent account owners from voting multiple times from different computers as they usually can for other online polls. Although some online activists have more than one Facebook accounts, the effect of this bias is negligible given that activists from both sides of the political divide are expected to be equally likely to own a second account.

 

A significant number of responses by non-Syrian Arabs should be expected given that many of them support the Syrian revolution just as many Syrians supported the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions before them. However, since the contribution of non-Syrian Arabs to the survey remains unknown, it is impossible to tease out Syrian responses from Arab ones. Moreover, it should also be cautioned that Syrians with FB accounts are not a truly representative sample as the sampling frame excludes Syrians without FB accounts as well as Syrians with no internet access. Results, therefore should be read with these limitations in mind.

Having said that, the large sample size of the polls selected here, in addition to the consistent results across a large number of polls make them worth analysing.

Below is a selection of the largest (20,000 to 170,000 voters each) Facebook polls on the Syrian crisis, Voting and community initial biases (where the question first originated) are specified under each question.

 

President Assad’s popularity

Q1 Syria needs?
Answers: Freedom (42,103), Bashar Al-Assad (40,992)
Biases: Poll started within a biased pro opposition community. The bias inherent in this question is twofold: in the first place, it is a “loaded” question in that it introduces a value bias (concept of freedom) which is contrasted against Assad (by implication, authoritarian). Second, the categories freedom and Assad are not mutually exclusive for many of the respondents, thereby forcing them to choose between either Freedom or Bashar Al-Assad. This eliminates many of the votes for the Syrian President by those who value freedom the most but believe that Al-Assad should lead the country to reforms and freedom. Despite these biases the results are close to a tie.

Q2 Will you vote for Bashar Al-Assad in direct Presidential elections in Syria?
Yes (22,111), No (13,102)
No apparent biases.

Q3 Will you vote for Bashar Al-Assad next Presidential referendum?
Yes (27,642), No (8,947)
Biases: Question originated within a biased pro President community.

Q4 If a referendum was held today, are you for nominating Assad for another term?
Yes (47,615), No (42,448)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community.

Q5 Would you accept someone other than President Assad as your President?
No (22,277), Yes (19,072)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro President community, however, the question itself introduces a counter bias as it seems to force the respondent to vote for an absolute right for Bashar Al-Assad as a President of Syria.

Q6 Which number is larger on Facebook?
Assad supporters (40,652), Assad opponents (39,749)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community

Q7 Is Assad qualified to govern?
Yes (87,915), No (93,473)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community

Q8 do you want Assad to remain President of Syria
Yes (40,549), No (33,659)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community.

Q9 Do you support President Assad
Yes (22,957), No (22.523)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro Assad community.

Q10 If elections were held, who do you want?
Bashar Assad (14,513), Burhan Ghalioun (1,903), Adnan Arour (289)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community that includes many non-Syrian Arabs (Aljazeera).

 

Popularity of demonstrators, their allies, demands and strategies

Q11 Are you for changing the shape or colors of the Syrian flag?
No (20,593), Yes (578)
Biases: none

Q12 Do you support stopping the protests in Syria to give a chance to reforms
Yes (50,303), No (42,667)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community that includes many non-Syrian Arabs (Aljazeera poll)

Q13 Are you for, or against Aljazeera?
For (21,562), Against (37,179)
Biases: Poll originated in what appears to be a pro-opposition community that includes many non-Syrian Arabs.

Q14 Do you support a UN resolution on Syria?
Yes (16,988), No (30,589)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community that includes many non-Syrian Arabs (Aljazeera poll)

Q15 Do you support Turkish military intervention in Syria?
Yes (425), No (15,339)
Biases: Poll originated in a pro opposition community.

Q16 Do you support Russia’s policy towards Syria?
Yes (31,028), No (28,819)
Biases: Poll originated in community that includes both pro-Assad Syrians but also includes many non-Syrian Arabs who are mostly pro-opposition.

Q17 Do you support Arab sanctions against the Syrian regime?
Yes (11,105), NO (20,100)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community that includes many non-Syrian Arabs (Aljazeera poll)

Q18 Who is responsible for the deteriorating situation in Syria
The regime (15,798), the opposition (17,803)
Biases: Poll originated within a pro opposition community that includes many non-Syrian Arabs (Aljazeera poll)

 

 

Analysis:

The overall average (53 %) and mode (most frequently recurring statistic) for the President’s popularity type questions (1,2,3,4,5,7,8,9) are similar to results of other related questions/variables (as in Q12 and Q18). This suggests that despite all the shortcomings of the surveys, they do have a high degree of “internal consistency reliability”, the results for one cluster of questions measuring one concept (support) are consistent with other results measuring related variables/concepts.

Like other online polls, Facebook polls have only limited validity and reliability. Only those who own a computer and a Facebook account can answer them; the strongly opinionated are more likely to answer them than the undecided. When a question measuring popularity is asked by a Facebook page that attracts a biased community of Syrians (or Syrians and Arabs), the final results tend to reflect some of that bias especially for smaller sample sizes. Questions that originate in pro-revolution pages tend to still make it to the general community of Syrians and when they do (at larger sample sizes) the results are mostly close to the 50% mark (See Q7), and almost all results are still in Assad’s favor. Some Questions by pro regime pages even reveal results that are as high as 75% pro Assad (see Q3).Only biased and limiting questions (ex: Freedom or Assad?) result in a slightly less than 50% for President Assad but another way to read those is that President Assad’s diehard fans (they will vote for him even if he does not reform) might alone count for over 40% (see Q1)

In addition to the majority support Assad enjoys, the even larger majority that voted against Al-Jazeera, Turkish military intervention in Syria, an Arab boycott of Syria, changing the colors of the Syrian flag or against a UN vote targeting Syria, should be construed by policy makers in Washington and “the international community” that they are interfering on the side of a minority of Syrians and against the wishes of a clear majority. All the questions which measured the popularity of the protesters’ demands and their tactics revealed that the protesters’ tactics are not supported by Syrians at large.

Domestic support for Assad may be even higher given the large number of non-Syrian Arabs respondents particularly on al-Jazeera facebook page. The Arab public’s noted sympathy for the revolutionaries may well skew the results in the latter’s favour. For example, in one survey which asked if Egyptian respondents favored kicking out the Syrian Ambassador to Egypt, 60,000 (88%) of respondents said yes, while only 8,000 (12%) said no. Tunisians often demonstrate in large numbers in support of a revolution in Syria, while Saudis listen to endless lectures by TV preachers telling them dramatic stories of Alawite regime crimes against Syrian Muslims.

Moreover, in one Doha Debates(Qatar foundation)  episode  in response to a question asking if President Assad should resign, a historic vote of 91% of the mostly Arab audience said Assad should go away. All left that room convinced that they were supporting the Syrian people in their struggle. The same Qatar foundation conducted an online poll asking if the Syrian President should resign: 81% of their Arab respondents said he should whereas 55% of their Syrian respondents said they wanted him to remain in power. The poll was published and reported widely although its sample was heavily biased and small (1000 people participating, of which only 97 are Syrian).

Having said that, the overwhelming votes in favor of preserving Syria’s integrity, national security and symbols implies that despite the large number of Arab respondents, these Facebook polls also attracted a large number of Syrian respondents.

It is clear from these 18 Facebook polls that at least among the more decided group of Syrian Facebook users, President Assad enjoys a comfortable margin of support. Although many support freedom and democracy in general, or object to the President running for office again in 2014, the revolution’s specific positions and demands have little support. While respondents are almost evenly split on Russia’s position on Syria, there is much less support for an Arab boycott of Syria, little support for a UN resolution against Syriaand near zero support for Turkish intervention. Interestingly, even among Arab viewers, it seems there was little tolerance for Aljazeera’s one-sided pro-revolution coverage.

The Syrian opposition leadership fared even worse with a statistically insignificant number of supporters for Burhan Ghalioun. Ghalioun’s failure to garner more than 0.12% of popular support (Q10) is a clear indication of the international community’s failure to pay attention to the Syrian people’s real preferences.

The opposition’s tactics did not win much approval either with a majority of respondents supporting dialogue rather than protests, and a similar number blaming the revolutionaries for prolonging the crisis. Viewed in combination with the even greater numbers who reject foreign intervention, it is increasingly apparent that neither the objectives nor the tactics of the SNC represent the aspirations and preferences of the vast majority of Syrians.

Nonetheless, these conclusions remain tentative considering the large number of Syrians who are not represented by these polls, such as the many poor and uneducated who cannot access Facebook. Syrians on Facebook who have an opinion either way, are split between those with almost unqualified support for President Assad and those who want democracy now. But as noted above, even this latter group of regime opponents is clearly not impressed with those who are leading the movement which claims to speak in their name.

 

Many thanks to Dr. Amal Saad-Ghorayeb for her kind and valuable assistance in evaluating the reliability of these polls.  -Camille

 

Camille Otrakji is a political and strategic analyst specialized in the Syrian affairs. He is the editor of the Syria Page, and the founder of many dialogue blogs over the past decade. He has recently joined Syria Tribune's list of guest editors.

(originally posted on the Syria Page, a Creative Syria Blog)

 

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