National survey reveals Libyans would prefer one-man-rule over democracy

15 February 2012

The first ever National Survey of Libya suggests that the population would still prefer one-man-rule over alternatives like democracy.

The publication of the survey of over 2,000 Libyan people coincides with the anniversary of the first protests triggered by rebel forces against Gaddafi, which ended after months of fighting when he was killed in October 2011. Despite the widespread hatred of the Gaddafi regime, this survey of public opinion reveals that in five years’ time 35 per cent would still like a strong leader or leaders for the country. Only 29 per cent of those surveyed said they would prefer to live in a democracy. However, 69 per cent of respondents also insisted that ordinary citizens should have a say in how the country should develop.

The face-to-face survey of a nationally representative sample of the population was conducted between December 2011 and January 2012 in a joint research project by the Institute of Human Sciences at the University of Oxford and Oxford Research International, a private research organisation, in association with the University of Benghazi. It finds that the Libyan population is largely optimistic about the future with up to 8 out of 10 people expecting improvements in their personal lives, economic circumstances and their country.

Despite this apparent optimism, 16 per cent of those surveyed said they were ready to resort to violence for political ends. This would mean that around 630,000 people were potential fighters, in addition to the 280,000 who previously took up arms.

There is already a plan for national elections being held in Libya with some suggesting they could take place as soon as June 2012. The survey suggests that most people in Libya distrust political parties with respondents giving them only 27 per cent of total trust. The most trusted institution was Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), which received 81 per cent of total trust from respondents overall.

Put in a position to spend 100 million Dinars, most Libyans said they would put health at the top of their list of priorities, providing it with an average of 34 per cent of the total budget. Education would receive an average of 27 per cent of the total budget while, perhaps surprisingly, environmental improvements such as tree planting would be given an average eight per cent of the total budget, according to the survey.

Dr Andrew Gosler, from the Institute of Human Sciences at the University of Oxford, said: ‘The first National Survey holds many surprises for the world on what the Libyan people want following decades of autocratic rule under the Gaddafi regime. It reveals that there is a great deal of optimism amongst the population about the future of their country. When asked about their spending priorities, health and education came top as you might expect, but the Libyans also seem surprisingly ready to do more on the environment where there is universal concern across all political divides.’

Dr Christoph Sahm, Director of Oxford Research International, said: Although there appears to be a push for an early election, the population seems to be happy with the National Transitional Council overall. Perhaps more significantly the Libyan people have not yet developed trust towards political parties, preferring a return of one-man rule. Yet they have also resoundingly said they want a say in how their country is run, which suggests that Libyans who have had autocratic rule for decades lack the knowledge of how a democracy works and need more awareness of the alternatives to autocratic government.

‘Overall, this survey suggests we should feel optimistic about the future of Libya. However, this survey also reveals there is potential for future instability as a significant minority have indicated that they would be prepared to take up arms. There is also a lack of awareness about how democracies work and the Libyan people are currently being ill equipped to consider the alternatives to autocratic rule.’

For more information, contact the University of Oxford Press Office on +44(0)1865 280534 or

Alternatively, contact Dr Andrew Gosler (+44 777 8302488) or Dr Christoph Sahm (+44 7584 414 509 or +49 170 9022341)

Media are invited to attend the launch of the National Survey at 12 noon on Wednesday 15 February. The launch will take place at the Human Sciences Institute, The Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6QS. Media are requested to register their interest in advance.

Notes for Editors:

  • About the Survey
    The face-to- face questionnaires for the survey involved 2,087 respondents from all parts of Libya. The survey was conducted between 13 December 2011 and 1 January 2012. The sample is nationally representative of a population of around 4 million Libyans over the age of 15. The research involved a team of 60 researchers (who all had studied at university level), who received additional training from scholars from the University of Oxford and the University of Benghazi.
  • About the Human Sciences Institute
    The Human Sciences BA degree course considers humans as a biological, social and cultural species, and provides a challenging alternative to some of the more traditional courses offered at Oxford. The degree offers an inter-disciplinary academic training that enables students to study humans from the contrasting perspectives of the biological and social sciences and to make connections between them. Underlying Human Sciences is a recognition that it is important to build bridges between the various human sciences at a time when advances in genetics, evolutionary biology and the social sciences need to be applied to the problems of a rapidly changing world. Teaching for the Human Sciences degree is provided by a number of departments of the University, including Anthropology, Physiology, Psychology, Sociology and Zoology. Hence, while the Institute of Human Sciences has few staff of its own, it draws on the experience and expertise of academics from a wide range of disciplines. For more information, go to
  • Oxford Research International
    Oxford Research International is a private research organisation, headed by Dr Christoph Sahm, a Continuing Member of Linacre College. Other transition countries surveyed by Oxford Research International include Iraq, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Bosnia, China, Sudan and the former Soviet Union. For more information, go to