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Monday, May 21, 2012

Islamists and Egypt’s Election: Gallup Surveys Provide Insight Into First Presidential Vote

By Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

Millions of Egyptians will cast their vote this week for their country’s first president since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 in elections that most of the nation’s public expects to be fair.  The big question is whether the strong Islamist showing in December’s parliamentary polls will repeat itself and put an Islamist in the executive post.

Gallup’s ongoing tracking of Egyptians’ views throughout its turbulent transition provide valuable insight.

Five key research findings suggest Egyptian support for Islamists is more utilitarian than ideological, so an Islamist-dominated parliament may not translate into an Islamist president.

  1. Support for Islamists is already declining: If most Egyptians were casting a vote for philosophical rather than practical reasons, we would expect that confidence to be fairly resilient.  Instead, the parliamentarians’ political squabbles and ineffective management of a turbulent transition have taken their toll. After only a few months dominating parliament, Islamists have already lost some of their luster. Support for the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) dropped to 43% in April 2012, after it had reached 67% in February of this year.  The Salafi-affiliated Nour Party suffered a similar fate, dropping to 30% in April from 40% support in February 2012. 
  2. Declining support for parliament to choose key posts: Perhaps even more telling, fewer Egyptians now believe parliament should choose key government posts or decide who writes the country’s new constitution. This finding suggests that when Egyptians chose Islamists to represent them in parliament, that support was conditional dependent on performance. 
  3. Strong support for Islamists is fairly recent:  If the Islamists’ parliamentary win were a popular ideological mandate, we would expect it be stable over a timespan of at least a few months.  However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s support, for example, jumped to 48% in December of 2011, from 15% in March of that year, shortly before Egyptians went to the polls. This kind of change suggests weeks of effective campaigning, not years of unwavering philosophical fellowship, produced the Islamists’ parliamentary win.
  4. Islamist and liberal supporters’ priorities for government are identical:  If Egyptian support for Islamist parties is primarily ideological, we would expect supporters’ priorities for the government to focus on social issues or religion’s role in public life.   Instead, whether they support Islamists or liberals, Egyptian voter priorities are virtually indistinguishable from American voters: jobs, economic development, security and stability, and education.
  5. Islamist and liberal supporters’ views on social issues are identical:  If support for a particular Egyptian political party is driven by ideology, then we would expect to see sharp differences on legal and social issues along party lines, like we typically see in the U.S.  These chasms are nowhere to be found.  Supporters of the FJP look identical to those who endorse the liberal Free Egyptians Party when it comes to women’s rights, interreligious tolerance, and basic constitutional freedoms.
Campaign effectiveness, not ideological loyalties, will ultimately decide this week’s elections. Today Egypt is a nation of the eager undecideds. In April almost 90% said they intended to cast a vote for their next president, but close to half were unsure for whom that would be. This means many Egyptians are open to a wide variety of candidates, making the country’s historic vote as unpredictable as it is exciting.  One thing is for certain: whoever wins Egypt’s presidential ballot will have to answer to a public that expects results, not rhetoric.

Gallup has tracked Egyptian public opinion since 2001 and will continue to survey regularly in 2012 to provide insights into the country’s historic transition.  Visit our Egypt page to access all of our articles and to be alerted as soon as new articles publish.

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