In a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre in March 2017 and published last week, Jordanians were reported to have the highest (82 per cent) unfavourable views of the US, among the 37 nations surveyed across the globe.
When examined further, a rather contrary reality is uncovered because a different tool is designed to measure the operational components of how Jordanians perceive American-Jordanian relations.
Measurements can be misleading if they remain very generic and do not scratch the surface to move beyond face-value generalisations that are not linked to actual issues of reference.
Survey results do have consequential implications, as they influence public debate as well as decision makers in Jordan and the US.
Therefore, it is essential to shed some light on how generic measurements can lead to a much construed view of reality when examined against a more rigorous set of measurements that are specifically designed to help policy makers through a comprehensive examination and to inform the public about their collective choices and views beyond populist clichés.
Instead of asking respondents about their favourability ratings of countries generically, which can refer to a wide range of issues, a research team at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, led by Mustafa Hamarneh, embarked on a project in 2004 to measure, inter alia, how Arabs, generally, and Jordanians, specifically, perceive American-Jordanian
These measurements were consequently repeated to establish the extent of changes that might have taken place between 2004 and 2014.
Now, as then, the data demonstrated a rather different, and contrary, view of the Pew report mentioned above.
In 2004, a year after US invasion of Iraq, 57 per cent described “political relations” between Jordan and the US as “very good” and 31 per cent as “somewhat good”.
Ten years later, a lot had happened. Post-invasion Iraq had turned bloody; Arab Spring had unleashed a wave of bloodshed across the region resulting in civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya, violent instabilities in Tunisia and Egypt and, to lesser extent, social unrest in Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.
The heat of instability was felt across the globe too, through immigration, refugee waves, radicalisation and terrorism.
The US was not a bystander in this regional turmoil; it was blamed by many for supporting and picking sides, sometimes with firepower as well as soft power mechanisms.
Keeping this in mind, in 2014, 51 per cent described American-Jordanians “political relations” as “very good” and 42 per cent as “somewhat good”, an overwhelming 93 per cent favourable opinion.
When asked, in 2004, what they would like to see happen with American-Jordanian political relations in the future, 50 per cent chose “improving them”, 21 per cent “keeping them as they are” and only 20 per cent chose to “reduce them”.
Ten years later, in late 2014, 72 per cent chose “improve them”, 19 per cent chose “keeping them as they are” and only 5 per cent chose “reduce them”.
Despite all problems, more Jordanians expressed more positive views over time.
In a nutshell, Jordanian public opinion is more rational and realistic about Jordanian-American relations.
However, this does not mean a blanket endorsement of American policies, although it is quite evident that Jordan and the US are considered integral strategic partners.
Jordanians tend to differ, and they express that, too. Their views are complex and not mutually exclusive.
They value the relation with the US, but also express their dissatisfaction with some policies they care about.
Not only does the Jordanian public perceive the relations highly positively, they also seek to further improve them or keep them as they are.
The core regional issue for Jordan has always been Palestine, which largely colours Jordanians’ generic view of the US.
The survey showed further that Jordanians are not satisfied with the role played by the US in resolving the region’s most prevalent issue.
For instance, when asked how satisfied they were with the US role in the Arab-Israeli conflict in 2004, 5 per cent reported “somewhat unsatisfied” and 86 per cent “very unsatisfied”.
Ten years later, the percentage was 10 per cent “somewhat unsatisfied” and 71 per cent “very unsatisfied”.
Despite this statistically significant drop, a core majority is unsatisfied with the US policy on the Palestinian issue. They also disagreed with the American policy on Iraq and were also critical of it on Syria. These views are distinct and they did not influence Jordanians’ views of American-Jordanian relations.
A more recent study by CSS, published in January 2017, addressing the Trump effect among the public at large, as well as opinion leaders, also revealed that majorities of the two samples considered that the relations will “remain the same” while 29 per cent of the public and 55 per cent of opinion leaders expected an improvement.
Despite these positive views and expectations, there is some apprehensiveness among the public and opinion leaders about the Trump effect, with 33 per cent of the public and 15 per cent of opinion leaders expecting American-Jordanian relations to get worse under Trump’s presidency.
It is important to operationalise concepts for measurements comprehensively.
American-Jordanian relations are not limited only to the political aspect; they also extend to very important economic, military and cultural dimensions, all of which are highly valued by the Jordanian public despite the presence of vocal voices that clearly advocate the opposite for various reasons.
The implications of these surveys for American-Jordanian relations are evident.
Although Jordanians do not approve some of the US’ efforts in the region, they still perceive the political and economic relations as highly positive and would support improving them or keeping them at the current levels.
The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.