A Troubling Analysis of the Recent Pew Poll on ISIS

ISIS is the largest terrorist organization in history, at one point seemingly controlling a land mass larger than Britain and ruling over a population of millions in parts of Syria and Iraq. Since ISIS first emerged on the international scene, with their invasion of Iraq last summer, their influence has only grown as they now have supporters and affiliates in several countries (e.g. Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Egypt, etc…) who have declared their allegiance to ISIS’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” and wage war and commit acts of terror on their behalf.


Image: Map showing ISIS declared provinces from recent NYT article on the growth of ISIS.

As an organization, they regularly commit extraordinary acts of violence. Recently, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum found in a report that ISIS committed an act of genocide against the Yazidi people. Others have highlighted efforts by ISIS that have contributed to the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East. They have also, more than any other group, slaughtered enormous numbers of Muslims (primarily Shia) for not adhering to their particular view of Islamic orthodoxy. ISIS has also brought back institutionalized slavery at the quasi-state level, as they systematically enslave and rape captured female populations, with thousands of Yazidi women suffering this fate. By some estimates, as many as two to three thousand Yazidi women are still prisoners of ISIS. Add to all of this a long list of other abuses, including regularly throwing homosexuals off of rooftops as a form of execution, crucifixions of children, drowning of prisoners, burning prisoners alive, amputations, and of course beheadings, beheadings, beheadings, etc… all proudly recorded and posted online.



One might assume that such an organization would be universally condemned. Unfortunately, a recent Pew Poll shows otherwise. While the poll has been celebrated for showing how unpopular ISIS is in the Muslim world, and initially appears to show extraordinarily high “unfavorable” responses by participants when they were asked about ISIS, a closer look at the numbers really gives no reason for cheer and only feeds my pessimism. In a survey of ten Muslim majority countries, the Pew Poll reveals that ISIS has, in actuality, troublingly high numbers of support.

The ten countries surveyed included Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, Burkino Faso, Malaysia, Senegal, and Pakistan. These ten countries have a combined population of roughly 783,459,480 people.

If one translates the percentage of “favorable” responses and extrapolates them to the entire population, then adds them together, one can use this method to come up with a total number of ISIS supporters (those who view the group favorably) out of the total population of the ten surveyed countries. For example, Pakistan has a population of 188,925,000 people. The Pew Poll showed that 9% of this population had a “favorable” view of ISIS, which translates into roughly 17,000,000 Pakistanis that view ISIS favorably.

Taking this approach with each of the ten predominately Muslim countries listed in the poll (I excluded Israel since it is not a majority Muslim country), then adding the numbers from each country together, I came up with about 65, 649,287 people out of the combined populations of these countries that see ISIS favorably, equaling about 8.3% of the total of roughly 783,459,480.

Moreover, and also very troubling, another 37.2% of this total combined population of the ten countries, equaling around 291,000,000 people, when asked if they viewed ISIS favorably or unfavorably, answered they “don’t know.” This is troubling because certainly most of the planet has heard about ISIS and their many various atrocities. Particularly in the Muslim world, where they are a constant source of controversy (in significant part because ISIS kills other Muslims more than any other group). Is this potentially demonstrative, among many of the respondents, of a tacit approval? Unwilling to declare their support for ISIS they are also unwilling to condemn them? I hope not.

One would hope for a clear almost universal condemnation of ISIS, but if one combines the 8.3% that view ISIS favorably with the 37.2% that are not sure, then 45.5% of the combined population of these ten countries, based on Pew’s estimates, did not see ISIS unfavorably.


*I am not a statistician, so I welcome anyone to check my numbers (broken down below) and notify me if they see any significant statistical errors beyond small rounding errors or inconsequential differences. I should also mention that I realize polls can be inaccurate or misleading, and that poll numbers are never a precise description of reality, but Pew is one of the more respected polling organizations and polls are one of the few ways we can arrive at any sort of answer to these kinds of questions.

Total population numbers for all ten countries- 783,459,480 million

Total numbers that see ISIS favorably- 65,649,287 (8.4%)

Total numbers that “don’t know”- 291,715,588 (37.2)

Source: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-significant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis/


Lebanon – 1% Don’t know   (= 0 favorable, 41,680 people who “don’t know”)

Total Population: 4, 168, 000


Jordan- 1% Favorable, 2% don’t know (= 75,950 favorable, 151, 900 who “don’t know”)

Total Population: 7, 595,000


Palestinian Terr. 6% favorable, 10% don’t know (= 280, 948 favorable, 468,246 who “don’t know”)

Total Population: 4, 682, 467


Indonesia- 4% favorable, 18% don’t know (=10,218,468 favorable, 45,983,106 who “don’t know”)

Total Population: 255, 461, 700


Turkey- 8% favorable, 19% don’t know (= 6,215,672 favorable, 14,762,221 “don’t know”)

Total Population: 77, 695,904


Nigeria- 14% favorable, 20% don’t know (=25,508,280 favorable, 36,440,400 “don’t know”)

Total Population: 182,202,000


Burkino Faso- 8% favorable, 28% don’t know (=1,476,039 favorable, 5,166,138 “don’t know”)

Total Population: 18, 450, 494


Malaysia- 11% favorable, 25% don’t know (=3,384,722 favorable, 7,692,550 “don’t know”)

Total Population: 30,770, 200


Senegal- 11% favorable, 29% don’t know (=1,485,958 favorable, 3,917,527 “don’t know”)

Total Population: 13, 508, 715


Pakistan- 9% favorable, 62% don’t know. (=17,003,250 favorable, 117,133,500 “don’t know”)

Total Population: 188, 925,000


Population Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependencies_by_population

*Links to original population sources (e.g. U.N. estimates, Official Government Estimates, etc…)