Afghanistan Poll: Where Things Stand 2010

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Dismayed by rising Taliban activity and persistent economic hardship, Afghans have turned more negative in their assessment of the presence and performance of U.S. and NATO forces in their country, with sharply different regional patterns that track the country's vexing challenges.

Nationally, after advancing last year in anticipation of better days, sentiment has shifted for the worse. Favorable views of the United States, rating of its performance, confidence in its ability to provide security and support for its presence all have matched previous lows or set new ones in the latest in a five-year series of polls in Afghanistan by ABC News and its media partners.

Click here for a PDF with the full analysis, questionnaire, trend data, and charts.

Click here for a glimpse of a day's work conducting polls in Afghanistan.

Click here for photos from the field.

Click here for charts of the results.

Regional differences are dramatic. Ratings of the United States and its allies have advanced sharply, albeit from a very low level, in Helmand and Kandahar, the two provinces where Western military and development efforts have been focused. Those gains, however, have been more than offset by deterioration in other areas of the country, where instability or economic difficulties have risen and a strong U.S. and NATO presence is lacking.

The latest survey is based on face-to-face interviews with a random sample of nearly 1,700 Afghan adults in all 34 of the country's provinces. The poll was sponsored by ABC News, the BBC, ARD German TV and The Washington Post, with field work by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research (ACSOR) and project design, management and analysis for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York. See separate report for methodological details.

DOWNTURN -- In Afghanistan as a whole, the results find a retreat from last year's higher hopes, with stability, economic opportunity and a reduction in violence still absent from much of the country, despite the surge of Western forces.

In one basic measure, just 43 percent of Afghans now express a favorable opinion of the United States, down 8 points to a new low; and fewer, 32 percent, rate the U.S. performance in Afghanistan positively, tying the low. Both are at about half of their peak in 2005.

Only 36 percent now express confidence in U.S. and NATO forces to provide security and stability in their area, down 12 points from last year and down by a vast 31 points since 2006. And one in four now blames the United States or its NATO allies for the country's violence, more than double the level a year ago.

Backing for the surge of Western forces has cooled: Last year 61 percent of Afghans supported the U.S. and NATO sending additional troops to their country; today that's fallen to 49 percent. And more now say the United States is playing a negative rather than a positive role in Afghanistan, 43 percent to 36 percent, a switch from last year.

For all the effort, the survey finds reports of Taliban activity on the rise -- down in some areas, but up in more of them. And just 33 percent overall say the broadly unpopular Taliban have been weakened in the past year -- down from the 40 percent who said so a year ago.

The Taliban, along with al Qaeda, still bear the brunt of the blame for Afghanistan's violence, and 74 percent of Afghans continue to say it was good for the United States to have invaded nearly a decade ago. But that's down 9 points since last year and down 14 points from its high in late 2006. And 73 percent now favor a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, a number that's grown by 13 points since 2007 as fighting has continued -- even though more than six in 10 reject the notion that the Taliban have adopted a more moderate stance. (A third do see it as more moderate, up from a quarter.)

Criticisms are not limited to foreign forces. The number of Afghans rating the work of foreign aid organizations positively has ebbed from 50 percent in late 2009 to 43 percent now. The number rating the United Nations positively has slipped from 61 percent to 55 percent.

Security is not the only issue: An index based on ratings of local living conditions is down, with particular declines in regions outside those where the U.S. and NATO efforts are focused. Tellingly, more Afghans say their economic opportunities are getting worse rather than getting better, by 40 percent to 22 percent; more also say their freedom of movement, as well as their security from crime and violence, have worsened.

PRESENCE and PULLOUT -- Even while criticizing the performance of U.S and NATO forces, most Afghans still support their presence, given the unpalatable alternative of Taliban control. But support for the presence of these forces also has slipped from last year, to numerical lows.

While 62 percent support the presence of U.S. military forces, that's dropped from a high of 78 percent in 2006. Fewer, 54 percent, support the presence of NATO/ISAF forces, also down from 78 percent four years ago. Moreover, when asked to gauge the level of support "among the people in this area" for such forces, only 35 percent say it's very or fairly strong, another new low numerically, down from 67 percent at its peak in 2006. (ISAF is the International Security Assistance Force, the U.N.-mandated, NATO-led multinational force in Afghanistan.)

There are sharp divisions in views of how long U.S. and NATO/ISAF forces should stay. Nearly three in 10 Afghans say Western troops should begin to leave sooner than next summer's target for drawdowns to begin, up 6 points from last year. About as many accept next summer as the start time for withdrawal, and as many again say it should depend on the security situation. But the smallest group -- 17 percent -- say the full deployment should be maintained longer.

If security gets better, 59 percent say foreign forces should leave more quickly. If it gets worse, 54 percent say they should stay longer. But notably, 41 percent say the forces should leave sooner even if security deteriorates.

SOME GAINS -- Some views of the U.S. and NATO performance are less negative. In the best rating, 53 percent say Western forces are doing better at training the Afghan Army and police. However far fewer see improvement at other key tasks -- providing security (36 percent better, but 32 percent worse), providing reconstruction and development assistance (32 percent better, but 30 percent worse) and supporting local authorities (28-28 percent better/worse).

In another question, majorities think foreign forces are making at least some progress toward goals such as training Afghan forces to take over security (where a broad 84 percent see progress), strengthening Afghanistan's government (69 percent) and preventing al Qaeda from re-establishing itself in Afghanistan (66 percent). Afghans rate US/NATO troops as the least successful in reducing corruption -- but still a slight majority sees progress here.

In each of these, though, far fewer -- no more than three in 10 -- see "a great deal" of progress. For example, just 19 and 20 percent, respectively, see a great deal of progress in preventing a Taliban takeover or an al Qaeda resurgence -- the chief aim of ISAF efforts.

VIOLENCE -- Violence is a clear driver of public attitudes. Four in 10 Afghans now report fighting between the Taliban and government or foreign troops in their area, up 7 points from early 2009. Forty percent report car bombs or suicide attacks in their area, 28 percent within the last year. Thirty-two percent report local bombing or shelling by U.S. or NATO/ISAF forces, numerically a new high -- and nearly three-quarters call such air strikes unacceptable, again up 7 points from December 2009.

In a critical measure, as noted above, more Afghans continue to say Western forces have gotten worse rather than better at avoiding civilian casualties, 39 percent vs. 30 percent. That's improved from a 43-24 percent negative result last year, but it remains a problem, given the extent to which such casualties erode support for the U.S. and NATO mission. And another measure hasn't changed: Thirty-six percent of Afghans report someone in their area killed or seriously hurt by Western forces, including two in 10 who say it's happened within the past year.

Concurrently, as noted, blame on the United States and ISAF for the violence in Afghanistan has risen. Twenty-four percent now chiefly blame U.S. forces, the U.S. government or NATO/ISAF forces for the country's violence -- a steep rise from just 10 percent last year. Blame on the Taliban, meanwhile, while higher, has declined from 42 percent last year to 33 percent now.

It matters: Support for the presence of U.S. forces doubles (to 74 percent) among those who blame the country's violence on the Taliban, al Qaeda or foreign jihadis, rather than on Western forces or the Kabul government. Similarly, support for the U.S. presence loses 19 points where coalition air strikes are reported, 17 points where the Taliban are most active, 16 points where local security is rated negatively and 15 points where civilian casualties have occurred.

ATTACKS -- In a troubling result, acceptance of attacks against U.S. forces has jumped. Last year, amid a prominent campaign led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to reduce civilian casualties, the number of Afghans who said attacks against American forces could be justified fell to 8 percent. Now it's increased sharply, to 27 percent, back near its previous levels.

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.

But the sharpest changes in ratings of local conditions are negative ones. There's been an 11-point drop in positive ratings of support for agriculture, to 34 percent, down from 45 percent, a critical issue in a country that's more than three-quarters rural. And there's also been an 11-point decline since late last year in positive ratings of "the rights of women" locally, to 52 percent, down from 63 percent last year and 71 percent in 2006.

The reach of the repressive Taliban may be a factor in views of women's rights. Among people who report no Taliban activity in their area, 61 percent rate the rights of women there positively. But among those who report at least five out of six Taliban activities locally, fewer than half as many -- 28 percent -- say the rights of women in their area are good. The rights of women also are rated better in urban rather than rural areas, by a 22-point margin, 70 percent vs. 48 percent.

Meanwhile ratings of the supply of electricity, the availability of food and medical care and local schools have all held essentially steady since last year, albeit without further improvement. Underscoring the continued needs, just 37 percent rate their supply of electricity positively.

Combining these in an index, positive ratings of local living conditions have declined overall, with sharp gains in Helmand more than offset elsewhere.

CORRUPTION/ALIENATION -- There are a range of challenges beyond security and economic concerns, with notable levels of alienation and perceived corruption and fraud among them. Strikingly, for example, just 40 percent say their country has a system of rules and laws that reflects what most Afghans want. And among those who say there's no such system now, three-quarters don't see any movement in that direction.

Most, 56 percent, describe the recent parliamentary elections as mostly fraudulent rather than mostly fair. And while 58 percent nonetheless are satisfied with the outcome, that's far below the 75 percent who were satisfied with the results of the presidential election in 2009.

If they had a problem with a government official, just three in 10 Afghans think filing an official complaint would help the situation; about as many think it would make things worse. And huge numbers continue to call corruption a problem at the provincial, national and local levels alike -- 93, 88 and 85 percent, respectively.

Ratings of local corruption, though, are down by 10 points from late last year, and the number calling it a "big" problem, which spiked up by 13 points last year, has spiked back down by 26 points this year. Another result also indicates some progress in addressing the extent of corruption: The number who say it's increasing has eased from 50 percent in early 2009 to 42 percent late last year and a bit further, to 37 percent, now -- a 13-point drop overall.

There's still plenty of room for progress on corruption and efficiency more generally. On the former, 67 percent of Afghans believe that government officials are misdirecting foreign aid money for personal gain. And on the latter, among those who say foreign aid money is coming directly into their community, four in 10 also say it's being mainly wasted.

Most Afghans, 73 percent, define the payment of money or gifts in exchange for favorable treatment as corruption. But that leaves more than a quarter who say otherwise, mainly either calling it acceptable (8 percent) or saying it depends on the circumstances. Slightly more than a quarter say they personally have been asked for money in exchange for favorable treatment by a provincial government official (27 percent); 21 percent say the same about a police bribe. But far fewer, 7 percent, report such behavior from members of the Afghan army.

Among other motivations, self-interest might encourage Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try to limit corruption: His job approval rating is 17 points lower among people who've been shaken down by a corrupt official.

TALIBAN -- U.S. officials have suggested that corruption may push Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, and when Afghans are asked why some people may support the Taliban, 71 percent say "too much corruption in the government" might be a reason. But it's important to note that only 11 percent say support for the Taliban is strong in their area, or that they personally support it.

Indeed the Taliban remain highly unpopular. Eighty-nine percent see the group unfavorably. Just 9 percent of Afghans would rather have the Taliban ruling the country -- up from 1 percent in 2005, but still very low. And 64 percent call the Taliban the biggest danger facing Afghanistan -- 50 points more than the next highest response, drug traffickers.

Nonetheless, as noted, support for negotiations with the Taliban has steadily increased since 2007, with nearly three-quarters now favoring a negotiated settlement. However, this support is conditional -- just 37 percent call themselves "very" willing to support a settlement in general, and if it ceded control over some provinces to the Taliban, 61 percent say they'd oppose it.

The Taliban have a history of repressive treatment of women, and women are 17 points less apt than men to express general support for an agreement with the group. Notably, only 49 percent of urban women say they'd back a deal with the Taliban, vs. 84 percent of urban men. (It's 71 percent vs. 58 percent among rural men vs. women.) Fewer urban men or women alike, two in 10, say they'd accept territorial concessions to the Taliban; that rises to four in 10 rural residents.

Reports of Taliban activity remain disturbing; 35 percent report Taliban killings in their area, 30 percent bombings, 27 percent burning of schools or government buildings, and 24 percent report the delivery of threatening "night letters" from the Taliban.

While many of these levels are similar to previous years, an index measuring six individual types of Taliban activity is up overall -- from an average of 1.56 items reported early last year to 1.79 this year. The index of Taliban activity is up by a statistically significant margin in four regions, and essentially steady in three; it's down in just one, the Southwest, led by a steep decline in Helmand.

Nationally, among individual items, there's been a 7-point rise, to 24 percent, in the number of Afghans who report people in their area giving food or money to the Taliban. Some of that, however, may be forced rather than voluntary; one of the leading reasons given for people supporting the Taliban, cited by 68 percent, is that they are forced or threatened.

Among other possible reasons for Taliban support, 68 percent say it could be "because the Taliban are opposing the foreign forces" and the most, 77 percent, say it could be for religious reasons. Far fewer endorse the notion that the Taliban may be seen as better at delivering services -- just 39 percent think this is a reason some people may support the insurgency.

GOVERNMENT -- Most Afghans rate the work of the present government, Karzai himself, the provincial government, the police and the Afghan army positively, most at virtually the same levels as last year. The exception is that positive ratings of Karzai's performance have lost 9 points, albeit to a still-strong 62 percent. His personal favorability, as opposed to work performance, is higher still, unchanged at 82 percent favorable. (Across the spectrum, 93 percent of Afghans rate Osama bin Laden unfavorably.)

Eighty-one percent say the level of support for the Afghan army in their area is high, unchanged from last year; and 76 percent say local support for the police is strong - 6 points higher than last year, and a numerical high. Roughly two-thirds of Afghans rate the work of the police and army in their area positively, unchanged since last year and a sharp contrast to U.S. and NATO/ISAF ratings.

There's a slight positive shift, from a Western perspective, in views of what form of government is best for Afghanistan at this time. About as many prefer democracy, 37 percent, as an Islamic state, 39 percent. Last year preference for an Islamic state prevailed by 11 points. (The rest of Afghans, 23 percent, prefer a "strong leader" who rules for life with final say in politics.)

Regardless, nearly three-quarters of Afghans say the country's government should follow Islamic principles -- but they divide evenly on whether it should do so very strictly, or somewhat strictly. Men are 11 points more apt than women to favor "very strict" adherence.

Whatever their preference for government, and despite their concerns about fraud, 77 percent say they're confident a system of freely electing leaders can work in their country. But as with so many results, there's a caveat: Just 27 percent are "very" confident of it.

In another result with potential policy implications for the West, given its frustrations with Karzai, Afghans divide about evenly on whether they think a system of popular rules and laws can best be established through the national and provincial governments, or instead through tribal elders -- 52 percent pick the former, but 46 percent the latter.

There are telling divisions: Members of the more conservative Pashtun ethnic group favor leadership through elders, by 56-42 percent; this spikes to 73-25 percent in the East and 64-34 percent in the Southwest, both largely rural, Pashtun-dominated regions. Members of the other large ethnic group, Tajiks, favor leadership by government rather than elders, 58-41 percent. Preference for government also spikes in Kabul, in urban areas overall, and among those who say the central government has a strong presence in their area. Leadership by elders, in contrast, tends to be preferred by those who say the central government lacks a strong presence in their area, who oppose the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and who prefer an Islamic government.

For all these divisions, most Afghans by far, 77 percent, still think of themselves as Afghans first, rather than identifying primarily with their ethnic group - and despite the country's troubles that's up by 10 points from last year. That could be a positive sign for national cohesion; on the other hand, it also leaves open whether members of one ethnic group think of others as Afghans.

REGIONS and PROVINCES -- Underlying these results are sharp changes at the regional and provincial levels, underscoring the matrix of difficulties the United States, its allies and the Karzai government face.

In Helmand, the surge of Western forces has shown dramatic success in several respects. The number of Afghans living in Helmand who report Taliban engagements against government forces in their area has been cut in half, from 90 percent in early 2009 to 44 percent now. Reports of U.S. and NATO air strikes are down, as are reports of civilians hurt or killed by Western forces. Support for the U.S. presence and positive ratings of its efforts are up sharply, and ratings of freedom of movement and local security from crime and violence are dramatically higher -- the latter from just 14 percent positive a year ago to 67 percent now.

Last year in Helmand few -- 13 percent -- rated their security specifically from the Taliban and other armed groups positively. Now 58 percent do. The number who report killings by the Taliban in their area, 81 percent in early 2009, is 41 percent now.

Given the aid that has accompanied the allied efforts in Helmand, there have also been steep advances in positive ratings of living conditions overall and economic opportunities in particular, from 14 percent last year to 59 percent now. Positive ratings of local infrastructure have gained 18 points. The number who report construction of schools has soared from 29 percent last year to 73 percent now, and construction of clinics and government offices similarly is up. Reports of a strong presence and ratings of the performance of the central and provincial governments and Afghan army and police have advanced by vast margins.

Yet even with these gains ratings of the United States are just middling -- 43 percent in Helmand rate the performance of U.S. forces positively (up by 24 points) and 42 percent are confident in its ability to provide security (up by 15). Fifty-five percent in Helmand say attacks on U.S. forces can be justified, sharply up, possibly an effect of the mere presence of so many foreign fighters. And support for a drawdown of foreign troops to start before next summer has doubled, to 53 percent, another sign of discomfort with the heavy presence of these forces.

ISAF has targeted Kandahar for its next all-out effort, and there too, possibly in anticipation, positive views of the U.S. efforts are up -- in terms of ratings of its performance, support for its presence, confidence in its ability to provide security and overall U.S. favorability. At the same time, many of these are up from extremely low levels last year -- for example, just 31 percent rate the performance of U.S. forces positively, though this is up from a mere 7 percent last year.

Kandahar has not seen the improvements in security, freedom of movement and economic opportunity cited in Helmand, so the gains in U.S. ratings at this point appear to be based more on expectations than on delivery. And there are plenty of challenges in Kandahar; the Taliban were based here, and continue to have more sympathy in Kandahar than anywhere else. Indeed 45 percent in Kandahar now express a favorable view of the Taliban, up 20 points from last year, and quadruple the group's favorability in the country as a whole.

Moreover, the gains in support on some key measures for the United States and NATO in Helmand and Kandahar are not matched elsewhere; to the contrary, many of these same ratings have declined in most other regions, particularly in the Northwest, Northeast, Central and East. (See the methodology statement at the end of this analysis for a definition of regions.)

A shift in Taliban activity is one reason; while reports of fighting between Taliban and government forces are down in Helmand and Kandahar, they're sharply higher in the Central, East and Northeast regions. The Taliban are reported to have gained strength especially in the East (where 49 percent say they've grown stronger in the past year) and North (37 percent). Security ratings overall have declined in the East and Central regions, and reports of allied bombardment, and of civilians hurt or killed by U.S forces, have sharply risen in these regions.

Ratings of security specifically from the Taliban and other armed groups are sharply lower in the North and Central regions. Freedom of movement is much curtailed in the East, Central region and Northwest. And ratings of economic opportunities have worsened markedly in the Northeast, East and Northwest.

Some of these results are summarized in the index of Taliban activity and the index of living conditions reported above. Sharp gains on both of these in Helmand have been surpassed by setbacks elsewhere.

Such are the problems facing the U.S. and its allies. For one, squeezing Helmand appears to have had the effect of pushing the Taliban elsewhere in the country. For another, security is not the only cause of dismay in Afghanistan. As previous polls in this series have shown, poverty, lack of economic opportunity and the sheer scope of development needs are additional, critical impediments to progress. Repeating the Helmand experience in each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces likely would help -- were the resources, much less the will, within the realm of reality.

FACTORS -- As noted above, the support for the presence of U.S. forces is lower in areas where security has worsened. Specifically, while positive ratings of the U.S. performance and support for its presence are up since last year in high conflict provinces (where the U.S. and NATO are focusing much of their efforts) positive ratings of the U.S. performance has lost 25 points, and support for its presence has lost 21 points, in areas where conflict is increasing. In all other provinces, these views are essentially flat.

There are other factors. Support for the United States also is stronger -- by a broad 25 points -- where the Afghan government has a strong presence. Among other influences, it's higher where local conditions are good or improving, where Taliban activity is more muted, among Afghans who say they can afford to buy necessities and among those with more education.

Ethnicity is an additional factor: At 49 percent support for the U.S. presence is lowest among Pashtuns, who predominate in the South and East (including the Taliban's home turf), than it is among the less-conservative Tajiks (66 percent) or other ethnic groups, among whom a combined 74 percent support the presence of U.S forces.

Combining these and other factors in a regression analysis demonstrates the strength with which each variable independently predicts views of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. As last year, the single biggest predictor is blame on U.S./ISAF forces for civilian casualties. And as many Afghans blame ISAF for these casualties as blame anti-government forces.

While that's a negative element, conversely, blame on the Taliban for the country's violence is the strongest positive predictor of support for the U.S. presence. And there are other factors -- ratings of living conditions, development efforts, the extent of foreign aid, the affordability of fuel and food, concerns about corruption and ethnicity all also independently predict support for the U.S. presence, if less strongly so.

WOMEN -- Women's rights are a complex issue in Afghanistan; in addition to this year's drop in positive ratings of such rights, there are mixed results in attitudes on just what those rights are. As in the past, large majorities, 87 percent apiece, support girls' education and women voting. But many fewer support these "strongly," 59 and 56 percent, respectively. Overall support for women holding jobs outside the home is lower, 69 percent, and just 40 percent strong; for women holding government office, 64 percent, and just 32 percent strong.

Underlining cultural differences between Afghanistan and the West, two other items score far lower: Just 50 percent of Afghans support women leaving their home, but staying in their village or neighborhood, outside the presence of a male relative; and just 38 percent support an unescorted woman traveling outside her village or neighborhood. Only 21 and 15 percent, respectively, support these strongly.

Also, 54 percent of Afghans in this poll say the decision to wear the burka ? the body-covering outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions ? should be made not by a woman, but by her husband or father.

There are significant differences by urban/rural status, as well as by sex, in these views. For example, 60 percent of urban women say wearing the burka should be a woman's decision, but just about half of rural women (51 percent) and urban men (46 percent) agree, and that drops to 33 percent of rural men. Similarly, 80 percent of urban women say a woman should be able to go outside her home, but stay within her village or neighborhood, without a male escort; that falls to 56 percent of rural women, 53 percent of urban men and just 37 percent of rural men.

Further marking the challenges facing women, while 86 percent of Afghans report that there's a boys' school operating in their area, many fewer, 67 percent, say there's a girls' school. Ten percent say there had been a girls' school that was closed; threats or intimidation by the Taliban are given as the most common reason.

POPPY -- Views on opium poppy remain problematic. On one hand 63 percent say it's never acceptable to grow the crop, of which Afghanistan is the world's largest producer. But that leaves 36 percent who say it is acceptable, either in all cases (9 percent) or when there's no other way to make a living (27 percent).

In Helmand, the top opium-producing province by far, the tables turn - just 36 percent call poppy cultivation unacceptable in all cases. It's 42 percent in the top seven poppy-growing provinces; that jumps to 67 percent in the rest of the country, where there's little or no poppy cultivation.

PROFILE -- Finally, other results in this study draw a profile of the basics of life in Afghanistan and its many challenges. Forty-six percent are illiterate. Fifty-six percent have no formal education whatsoever; just 15 percent have gone through senior high school or beyond.

Three-quarters of Afghans live in rural areas. Of those with employment (nearly all men, and very few women), 53 percent are farmers, farm laborers or unskilled workers; another two in 10, skilled workers or artisans. Fifty-seven percent report incomes equaling $100 a month or less. Just 39 percent say they can afford to buy all or some of the food they need.

Only slightly over a quarter of the country's population gets its electricity from power lines; in an advance, most of those who do (six in 10) report that it stays on all day, up 13 points. But that leaves 28 percent who rely on either private or shared generators for power -- and 44 percent of the country's population with no electricity at all.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/BBC/ARD/Washington Post poll is based on in-person interviews with a random national sample of 1,691 Afghan adults from Oct. 29-Nov. 13, 2010. The results have a 3.5-point error margin. Field work by ACSOR, the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research in Kabul, a subsidiary of D3 Systems Inc. of Vienna, Va. Design, management and analysis for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York.

Regions are defined in this survey as follows: North: Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, Sari Pul Northeast: Badakhshan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Takhar East: Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar, Nuristan Central East: Kabul, Kapisa, Logar, Panjshir, Parwan Central: Bamiyan, Ghazni, Wardak Northwest: Badghis, Farah, Ghor, Herat Southeast: Khost, Paktia, Paktika Southwest: Daykundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan, Zabul

Designations of conflict zones by NightWatch, an open-source analysis project of KGS, a Virginia-based intelligence and business management contractor.

High conflict: Helmand, Kandahar, Ghazni Improving: Uruzgan, Zabul, Farah, Kabul, Logar Worsening: Baghlan, Kunduz, Takhar, Kunar, Nangarhar, Wardak, Badghis, Herat, Khost, Paktia, Paktika Low violence: Daykundi, Nimroz, Ghor, Bamiyan, Kapisa, Panjshir, Parwan, Laghman, Nuristan, Badakshan, Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, Sari Pul

Click here for details on the survey methodology, here for charts on the results, here for photos from the field and here for a summary of all polls in ABC's ongoing "Where Things Stand" series in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Click here for a PDF with the full analysis, questionnaire, trend data, and charts.

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