What's in a name? Barack Obama good for Israel; Barack Hussein Obama less so

Sep 19, 2012

President Obama's middle name, Hussein, makes Israelis – both Jewish and Arab – perceive him as less pro-Israeli, reveals a new study conducted by the University of Haifa and the University of Texas. The study has just been published in the journal Political Behavior. "Even though the Israeli public has extensive information about the American President and his positions, their opinions can still be swayed by cultural cues, such as a name that in this case is perceived as Arabic," says Dr. Israel Waismel-Manor of the University of Haifa who co-authored the study.

Similar cases in the past have shown that public figures' names, particularly those carrying cultural significance, can affect how the public perceives their public role. The current study, conducted by Dr. Waismel-Manor and Dr. Natalie Jomini Stroud of the University of Texas, set out to examine if and how Obama's middle name affects Jewish Israeli, Arab Israeli, and American perceptions, and whether there are differences in how the name affects them due to cultural associations. Participating in the study were Israeli Jewish students; Israeli Arab students; American students who sympathize with Israel; and American students who sympathize with Palestinians.

Each group was asked to watch a 3:40-min. news clip of Obama speaking at an official meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen about the peace talks between the sides. A random half of each group was shown the clip with a reference caption that read "President " and the other half saw the clip with the caption "President Barack Hussein Obama". The caption appeared four times during the clip for a total of 20 seconds. Following the clip, the participants were asked whether Obama favors Israelis or Palestinians, what their opinions are of the American President's proposals for the Middle East, and their overall opinion of Obama (in terms of trustworthiness, competence, honesty, warmth, intelligence, and fairness).

The results reveal that the group of Israeli Jews who saw the "Barack Hussein Obama" reference perceived him as less pro-Israeli; they considered his approaches to the peace process less fair or feasible; and felt that he is a less positive person overall – in comparison to the other half of this group who saw the "Barack Obama" reference.

For the Israeli Arabs "Barack Hussein Obama" also favored Israelis less, compared to those who saw "Barack Obama". (Nevertheless, and in contrast to the study's predictions, the study found that for Israeli Arabs "Barack Hussein Obama" is a less positive individual than "Barack Obama".)

An interesting finding unrelated to the President's middle name is that overall Israeli Jews perceived the American President as more pro-Palestinian and less pro-Israeli than the Israeli Arabs perceived him; but he also was perceived by this Jewish group as a more positive person and as one whose positions are more fair and feasible than the Israeli Arabs did.

According to the researchers, the President's middle name makes Israelis – Jews and Arabs – perceive him as less pro-Israel, ultimately effecting an opinion amongst the Jews that he is less fair and amongst the Arabs that he is more fair.

It appeared that amongst the American participants of the study, their President's middle name had no effect, and no major differences were noted between the groups that saw "Barack Hussein Obama" and "Barack Obama". However, the study observed overall differences between the Israeli sympathizers and the Palestinian sympathizers in that the former perceived Obama as more pro-Palestinian and less pro-Israeli than the others.

In an attempt to understand the cultural impact of the name "Hussein", the researchers took another sample group of Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Americans and asked them to rank associations with the names "Mike", "Diego", "Hussein", and "Jean-Pierre". The name "Hussein" was the only name that aroused negative associations among the Jewish Israelis and Americans, while the name aroused positive associations among the Arabs.

"In a world of global media, a seemingly irrelevant detail such as a middle name can affect particular audiences to develop an affinity or aversion to a person," concludes Dr. Natalie Jomini Stroud. "It seems that a politician's decision to use a middle name or omit it – as Obama did in his Cairo speech – can have an impact on certain members of the public."

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Life expectancy higher in Israel than in US, researcher says

Oct 13, 2010

A new study conducted by a researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) for Jerusalem's Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel reports that Israeli's have a higher life expectancy on average than Americans ...

Cisco CEO hopes to create jobs for Israeli Arabs

Jun 20, 2012

(AP) — Cisco Systems Inc. CEO and Chairman John Chambers on Wednesday introduced a campaign to help create 12,000 high-tech jobs in Israel's distressed Arab sector over the next four years.

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JGHunter
1 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2012
An unfortunate name to be read by illiterate rednecks:

Barack = Barracks, also rhymes with attack.
Hussein = Saddam
Obama = Osama

Depending on which way you look at it, his name suggests he is either anti-terrorist/despot, or in support of their work.
Deathclock
5 / 5 (3) Sep 20, 2012
People who judge a man by his name, which was given to him beyond his control, are ignorant pieces of shit... Just saying...
JGHunter
1 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2012
People who judge a man by his name, which was given to him beyond his control, are ignorant pieces of shit... Just saying...


Not really sure why I got downrated for criticising ignorance and you got a 5 rating. Oh well.

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.