Afghanistan Poll: Where Things Stand 2010

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Those views are associated with conflict levels. The number saying violence against U.S. forces can be justified is up sharply, by 28 points, to 40 percent, in provinces where conflict has been most intense, and by 29 points, to 36 percent, in areas where violence is less intense but has been worsening, as assessed by the security monitor NightWatch (details in methodological statement below). The view is less prevalent, and has grown less steeply, where there's little conflict reported, and is essentially unchanged where violence has diminished.

OUTLOOK -- Last year's advance in public optimism was based on factors such as the resolution of the presidential election, significant advances in development, perceived gains against the Taliban and reductions in civilian casualties attributed directly to NATO/ISAF forces. A year later Afghans overall report continued security challenges, less optimism and fewer economic opportunities -- in most cases a return to the levels of early 2009 and before.

There are some positives notes -- for example, infrastructure projects are continuing, more Afghans say their overall living conditions are improving rather than getting worse, and, despite the violence, 61 percent say their prospects for living in peace and security are good.

In terms of the broadest outlook, there's been a significant, 11-point drop in views among Afghans that their country is headed in the right direction, down to 59 percent. This still is well above its level in early 2009 (40 percent), but well below its peak, 77 percent, back in 2005.

Expectations for the future also are less rosy, though not quite as sharply. Sixty-five percent expect their life will be better a year from now, though many fewer, 22 percent, say "much" better. These are 6- and 9-point drops from last year (though again, still above levels in early 2009). Likewise, while 56 percent think their children will have a better life than their own, that's slipped by 5 points.

CONDITIONS -- Security remains the biggest problem facing the country, cited by 37 percent, vs. 32 percent last year. (The economy follows, with weak government or corruption third.) More perceive their security as getting worse rather than better (40 percent vs. 31 percent), although overall ratings of local security have held steady. And with Taliban activity in more of the country, there's been an 8-point drop in Afghans' assessments of their freedom of movement.

Positive ratings of the availability of jobs and economic opportunities have dropped by 7 points since last year -- only 33 percent rate these as good, a mere 5 percent as very good. And, in a broadly negative assessment in this impoverished country, despite the aid that's poured in, 40 percent of Afghans say economic opportunities are getting worse, vs. just 22 getting better.

Positive ratings of overall living conditions are unchanged (although 6 points fewer call them "very" good, now just 10 percent). Also, unlike economic opportunities, more Afghans say living conditions overall are getting better than worse, 35 percent to 26 percent. Development seems to be helping. More say infrastructure is getting better than worse, by a 12-point margin, 40 percent vs. 28 percent. More than a quarter say schools, health clinics, mosques, police stations or roads have been built in their area in the past year -- a remarkable feat.

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