Poll Shows Burmese Know Little about US Leadership

By The Irrawaddy 3 December 2012

Two-thirds of Burmese don’t know what to make of the current American leadership, a rare opinion poll in the Southeast Asian nation revealed last week.

The survey, undertaken by the Washington, D.C.-based pollster Gallup ahead of US President Barack Obama’s tour of Southeast Asia in November and short stopover in Rangoon on Nov. 19, showed that Burmese are much less aware of who is at the helm of the world’s largest economy than those surveyed in Cambodia and Thailand, the other stops of the inaugural journey of Obama’s second term in office.

Among the 1,020 adults surveyed in Burma, 67 percent said they don’t know about the current leadership or refused to answer the pollsters. This compares with only 30 percent in Cambodia and 26 percent in neighboring Thailand.

Thirty percent of those surveyed in Burma expressed approval of the US leadership, half the percentages in Cambodia and Thailand. Yet, only four percent of Burmese expressed disapproval of the American leadership—half the rate of Cambodia and 10 percentage points less than Thailand, the oldest US ally in the region.

Gallup noted in a press release that those who have an opinion in Burma “are more likely to approve than disapprove of US leadership.”

After Obama’s visit, “more residents will begin to formulate an opinion of US leadership. Whether that opinion will be positive or negative will likely hinge on how successful and fast its transition to democracy is—and the role the US plays in helping it get there,” the pollsters said.

Gallup’s last major poll in Burma dates back to 2006, before the Saffron Revolution in 2007 and Cyclone Nargis in 2008, when it asked some 300 urban Burmese on their “great dreams/hopes” for themselves and their country, which at the time was a repressive military dictatorship.

More than a third said they hoped for a higher standard of living, 21 percent said they hoped for an improved economy, eight percent said they hoped for peace and stability. In a regional comparison, 40 percent of those surveyed in Burma said they were dissatisfied with their standard of living, a percentage of discontent then only exceeded in Cambodia.

Two-thirds of those surveyed were dissatisfied with the amount and quality of food. A third said they struggled to afford food in the last year.

“Few Burmese respondents mentioned the government at all when asked about aspirations,” the pollsters wrote. “Resiliency may be what Burmese will need to draw upon to survive the difficult times they are living through now, and in the future.”