And though the poll largely asked about Qatar, there were some unpleasant numbers for Saudi Arabia, too. Thirty-five percent of Americans considered Saudi Arabia unfriendly or an enemy, according to the poll. Those negative numbers were higher than they were for Qatar (31 percent) and not far off the 37 percent who considered Saudi Arabia friendly or an ally. Notably, there were more positive views of the United Arab Emirates, another party in the anti-Qatar bloc, who was seen as a friend or an ally by 39 percent and unfriendly or an enemy by 24 percent.
These differences may be partly explained by the fact that Americans remain more familiar with Saudi Arabia and the UAE than Qatar. Only 28 percent said they were not sure what they thought about the Saudi kingdom, 37 percent said the same of the United Arab Emirates, and 43 percent said they did not know what they thought of Qatar. When asked to list the attributes they associated with Qatar, 50 percent said they did not know enough about Qatar to answer.
As Iyad el-Baghdadi, an activist based in Norway, sarcastically put it on Twitter, “I’m surprised 27% of Americans even know Qatar exists.”
There’s little comparable data from other polls to show how American views of Qatar might have changed. But there’s plenty for Saudi Arabia, and it tends to show a long-standing distrust of the country among Americans. For example, polling from Gallup shows that since 2002, a majority of Americans have had “mostly” or “very” unfavorable views of Saudi Arabia (65 percent in one poll conducted earlier this year).
In a statement, Stephan Shakespeare, chief executive of YouGov, noted that the “American public is not usually characterized by its strong interest in foreign affairs, rather the opposite.” However, he argued, the American public seemed to be increasingly aware of the Persian Gulf crisis. Abdellatif el-Menawy, an Egyptian journalist, suggested in a column for Arab News that the poll showed the need for Qatar to pay more attention to its communications strategy.
However, the lingering negative views toward Saudi Arabia shown in the poll suggests that Qatar may not be the only country that needs to heed that advice.
YouGov conducted online interviews of 2,263 U.S. citizens age 18 or older between July 19 and July 21 for the survey. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, adjusted for weighting.