Optimism rises about the direction of one's country
Across the region, nationals express more optimism about their country’s trajectory than two years ago, with the exception of Saudi nationals. Egyptians and Tunisians report the largest increases in national optimism when asked, “Overall, do you think things in your country are generally headed in the right direction, or do you think things are off on the wrong track?” Nearly two in three Egyptian nationals (64%) feel their country is headed in the right direction compared with 42% in 2013. Forty-two percent of Tunisians feel their country is on the right path compared with 27% in 2013. Optimism in Saudi Arabia declined, although the majority still feel hopeful; 67% feel the country is headed in the right direction, down from 79% two years ago. Officials in Qatar did not approve this question for fieldwork.
Taken as a whole, 56% of all nationals said their country is headed the right direction (a rise from 47% in 2013), and 32% said their country was on the wrong track (a decline from 40% in 2013). Progressives are far more likely to say their country is on the wrong track, while conservatives say their country is headed the right direction. Accordingly, those who say their country is headed in right direction are far more likely to be conservative, and those who say their country is on the wrong track are more likely to be progressive.
Optimism appears related to general news consumption, particularly consumption of national news. Those who believe in their country’s progress are considerably more likely to trust mass media to report the news fully, fairly, and accurately than those who don’t (79% vs. 49%). They are also more likely to feel the quality of news reporting in the Arab world has improved over the past two years (57% vs. 40%), describe their own nation’s news as credible (51% vs. 30%), and believe their nation’s media report independently of official interference (56% vs. 34%). Optimists are almost twice as likely to say their favorite news organization is run by their government (41%, vs. 21% of those who say wrong track), while those who feel the country is on the wrong track are more likely to favor a privately-owned news organization (67%, vs. 48% right direction).
Optimists are almost twice as likely to say their favorite news organization is run by their government (41%, vs. 21% of those who say wrong track), while those who feel the country is on the wrong track are more likely to favor a privately-owned news organization (67%, vs. 48% right direction).
Nationals optimistic about their country tend to follow national news more closely than those less optimistic (66% vs. 59%). Additionally, they are more likely to read online news daily (62% vs. 45%). Perhaps consequently, optimists are more likely to share news online with others (67% vs. 56%). They are more inclined to share news via social media (58%) and direct message (30%) than email (11%). Optimists also use Twitter twice as often as those who feel their country is on the wrong path (47% vs. 25%).
Those optimistic about their country demonstrate greater interest in religious news (62%, vs. 49% wrong track), while less optimistic nationals are inclined to comedy/social satire (67%, vs. 58% right direction), and watch more social satire on TV (56%, vs. 45% right direction).
Nationals less optimistic about their country’s direction tend to believe in the freedom to criticize governments online (46%) compared to 38% of those more optimistic. However, they are less convinced public officials will listen to what they have to say online (26%, vs. 36% of those who are optimistic).
Most see bias in international news coverage of their country; bias often seen as favorable
Overall, one-third of nationals surveyed believes international news reporting is biased against their country, and one in four say international news organizations are biased in favor of their country (a third say coverage is fair). Perceptions of bias vary considerably by country; pluralities of Lebanese (48%) and Saudis (38%) feel international coverage of their country reveals negative bias, while nearly half of Emiratis (48%) feel international coverage favors the UAE. Most Qataris (51%) feel coverage of their country is fair. The question was not asked of Egyptians.
Those who cite media bias against their country are more likely to be culturally progressive than those who see favorable coverage (26% vs. 18%). Arab perceptions of international media bias relate to media use: those who believe there is a negative bias have greater consumption of national news compared to nationals who believe media have less bias against their country.
Nationals are more willing to pay for news content if they believe global news outlets are negatively biased toward their country (51%) compared with those who cite positive bias (42%). Additionally, belief in media bias leads to favoring privately owned news organizations (71%) over state run (18%).
Those who see international news bias against their country say people benefit from consuming foreign news more than those who find coverage favorable (54% vs. 49%). Despite little difference in social media use among the groups, skeptics of the impartiality of foreign media coverage are more likely to share news content via social media channels.
Those who see positive bias in international coverage of their country are more likely to watch online news than their more negative compatriots (49% vs. 38%). They also watch social satire (50% vs. 37%) and religious video content (28% vs. 19%) more often.
Belief in positive international news bias creates a halo effect: these nationals see media in their own country as credible (53%) and independent of government interference (54%) more than those who see negative media bias (37% and 42%, respectively).
Age groups and media use: differences in principle and practice
Nearly all Arab 18-24 year-olds are online, compared with just one in three of those 45 and older (90% vs. 31%). Six in ten 35-44 year olds use the internet, increasing to eight in ten of 25-34 year-olds.
Perhaps due to their significant online presence, younger nationals are more supportive of freedom of expression on the internet than older respondents. Younger nationals are likely to feel it is safe to express one’s political views online and believe in freedom to criticize governments on the internet. In practice, though, younger nationals are less likely to feel comfortable expressing their own political opinions than they are to support the right to express political views.
Nonetheless, perceptions of political empowerment online do not differ by age; four in ten of all nationals believe the internet strengthens political influence, and about one-third feel the internet will cause public officials to pay more attention to their beliefs.
The youngest nationals (18-24) are less interested in news than older citizens. Nevertheless, a majority of the youngest group follows national news closely (52%, 18-24 vs. 62%, 25-34 and 66%, 35-44 and 70%, 45+). There is a clear distinction between those under and over 25 with regard to attention to international news; 33% vs. 47% of those 25 and older follow regional news closely and 27% vs. 37% follow international news closely.
Preferences for news genre also vary by age; younger adults express the most interest in entertainment-based news. The younger generations show more interest in entertainment/culture (73% 18-24 vs. 59% 45 and older), comedy/social satire (68% vs. 55%), and sports (54% vs. 37%). The oldest adults (45+), on the other hand, are more interested than those younger in news related to public affairs (64% 18-24 vs. 79% 45 and older) and religion (48% 18-24 vs. 69% 45 and older).
While older nationals tend to consume more news in general, they are less likely than younger respondents to express a willingness to pay for news content (47% 18-24 vs. 37% 45+).
Young respondents (18-24) spend about 30 hours online per week, compared with 18 hours for those 45 and up. The younger group also spends twice as much time socializing with friends online (15 hours vs. 7 hours). Nearly all social media use trends younger, with higher use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram among younger nationals, while WhatsApp is popular among all age groups. Young respondents post messages and other content far more often than their older contemporaries.
Younger nationals use the internet for entertainment, including for watching videos, listening to music and playing games. Older Arabs, on the other hand, are more apt than those younger to look for news and information online. Comedy, social satire, and sports are accessed online by younger respondents more often than older adults, but there is little variance by age in online viewership of news and religious video content.
Education level and media use: differences in principle and practice
While highly educated individuals tend to support freedom of speech online in general, and are more likely to believe using the internet can enhance one’s political influence, they report less comfort expressing their own political opinions. Those with less formal education generally show less support for freedom of expression as well as greater comfort expressing political opinions.
Nationals throughout the region, regardless of education level, are staunch consumers of news. Overall, six in ten nationals follow national news closely (58% primary school education, 64% intermediary, 63% secondary, 64% university or higher) and one in three follow international news closely (31% primary, 28% intermediary, 39% secondary, and 35% university or higher). Additionally, majorities at all education levels are interested in news about public affairs (66% primary, 70% intermediary, 74% secondary, and 73% university or higher).
How people consume news, though, does differ by education. Those with more education are much more likely to turn to the internet as an important source for news.
Nationals of all education levels express high levels of trust in mass media. Two in three nationals (65%) say they trust mass media to report the news fully, fairly and accurately.
University-educated nationals are far more likely than those with less education to access the internet, TV and, to some extent, radio in English. Particularly, those with a university education are twice as likely as those with an intermediary or secondary school education, and four times more likely than those with a primary school education, to use the internet in English (10% primary, 24% intermediary, 21% secondary, 47% university or higher). Few nationals, regardless of education, read English-language newspapers.
People of all education levels demonstrate a strong preference for comedy and news genres on TV. Those with the lowest education levels watch more religious content on TV (59% primary vs. 50% university or higher), while those with more education watch more sports.
Internet use differs highly according to education. More than nine in ten (91%) nationals with a university education are online, compared with 16% of those with only a primary level education. A slight majority of those with an intermediary education are online (55%) and three in four (76%) of those with a secondary school education. Those with a secondary school or university education tend to be more active on social media than those with less education. Those with a university education are also more likely to share news content (48% primary, 56% intermediary, 58% secondary, 64% university or higher).