Egypt Poll: Voters See Both Ballots and Protests as Key to Change

13/12/2011 15:04 GMT | Updated 11/02/2012 10:12 GMT

By: Dr Anne Alexander

Writing for YouGov-Cambridge

An online poll conducted by YouGov for YouGov-Cambridge (its new academic arm) days before the first round of the Egyptian parliamentary elections on 28/29 November provides a fascinating snapshot of voters pulled between the ballot box and the mass street protests which erupted in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country during the same period.

On this occasion the belief that the elections would deliver political and social change proved stronger than the calls of revolutionary activists for a national salvation government decided by the protesters in Tahrir. However, the poll shows strong support for the demonstrations against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, hostility to the security forces' crackdown and considerable concern about the ruling generals' longer-term ambitions to entrench their own political role.

Respondents' identification of the issues which matter most to them, reveal the weight of expectations under which the new parliament will be working. Unsurprisingly, the implementation of a broad agenda of social justice - one of the watchwords of the 25 January revolution - combined with a desire for law, order and social stability emerge as primary concerns.

The poll's sample is heavily weighted towards university graduates (83% of respondents have a university degree, compared to a gross enrolment rate of 35% in tertiary education), although this sector of society has been identified by many researchers as playing a particularly significant role in the 'Arab Spring'.

The most striking feature of the poll results is the combination of relatively high levels of confidence in the electoral process with equally high levels of support for the protests against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Overall, 46% of respondents strongly believed that the army would facilitate free and fair elections, while 37% believed this to some extent. However 48% of all respondents also thought that the protests were 'necessary actions to achieve the goals of the revolution', compared to 40% who thought them 'unnecessary disruptions'.

Given the intensity of street fighting between protesters and the security forces in many areas, the barrage of criticism against the demonstrators in the mainstream media, this shows a remarkable degree of identification with the revolutionary activists in the streets. It is also sharply at odds with the position taken by the Muslim Brotherhood which provided only token support for the protesters in Tahrir at the height of the battle with the police, and argued that continuing demonstrations could derail the electoral process.

Support for the protests is considerably stronger among the poorest: 55% of respondents with monthly household income of less than $266 thought the demonstrations were necessary. Lower income respondents were also slightly more likely to be critical of the security forces' response to the protests: 52% in the bottom two income bands (households with a monthly income of less than $532) 'strongly disagreed' with the statement that 'the response of the security forces to the recent protests in Egypt is justified', compared to 49% overall.

Criticism of SCAF's attempts to entrench its political role is strongest among higher-income groups, but in general a high proportion of respondents were concerned over this issue. Overall 55 percent of those polled thought that the draft constitution produced by SCAF 'would allow the military too much power' after the election of a civilian government. This figure rose to 65 percent of the highest income band (monthly household income of $1,066) compared to 49 percent among the poorest (monthly household income of less than $266).

Nevertheless, 59% of respondents said they were 'very likely' to vote, a figure which is slightly higher than the actual turnout of 52%. Highest-income respondents were more enthusiastic about participation in the elections: 65 percent of respondents in the top income band said they were 'very likely' to vote compared to 58% in the lowest income band. A similar pattern emerged in relation to age: among respondents over 35, 65% were 'very likely' to vote, compared to 55% of under 35-year-olds.

Asked why they would vote, the most popular answer was 'I really want to bring about a change in my country' (74% of all respondents), followed by 'I feel it is my duty to vote' (73%), and 'I want to play a part in the democratic process' (68 percent). This evidence of strong desire for change, combined with scepticism of SCAF and support for the protests lends weight to comments by revolutionary socialist activist Hossam el-Hamalawy on 4 December: "Millions took part in the current election circus. Their rush to vote is largely driven by the general desire to see SCAF go."

Respondents showed strong concern for a raft of social issues, although desire for law, order and security was the most popular concern (82% of all respondents). This was followed closely by job creation and dealing with unemployment (79%), securing economic growth (78 percent), education and literacy (73%), corruption in government (72%), healthcare (70 percent), the new constitution (70%), the rising cost of living (68 percent), relations between Muslims and Coptic Christians (64%). Excluding former regime figures from office and establishing democratic, accountable institutions were rated as important by 60 percent of respondents.

The incoming MPs will face a difficult task. The combination of high expectations of political and social change, difficult economic circumstances, both locally and globally, and the fact that large sections of the population supported mass mobilisations in defiance of the military, suggest that this will be a parliament under siege from the street.