Views Improve Sharply in Afghanistan, Though Criticisms of the U.S. Stay High

Karzai may also be experiencing a typical winner's rally, often seen in U.S. elections; indeed, beyond presidential approval, Americans' views of the United States' direction improved after Obama's election – in still-challenging times – just as they've now soared in Afghanistan. A question is to what extent support may fade (as has Obama's), especially if Karzai's campaign promises are unmet.

ELECTION – On the Afghan election itself, this poll finds majority suspicion of fraud in voting and vote counting alike – 56 and 60 percent, respectively, think these occurred. But far fewer (three in 10) see it as widespread fraud; 82 percent express confidence that "a system of freely voting for leaders" will work in Afghanistan; and 75 percent say they're satisfied with the election's outcome. Karzai's favorability rating, in this hierarchical society, is a towering 82 percent.

Positive views of the election are a clear factor in Afghans' brighter hopes for the future; among those who say they're satisfied with the outcome, 78 percent say the country's headed in the right direction; among those who are dissatisfied this dives to 45 percent.

Positive views of the country's direction likewise are dramatically higher among people who are confident democracy can work in Afghanistan, as well as among those who rate Karzai's performance positively. Those who suspect widespread fraud, on the other hand, are considerably less sanguine about the country's direction overall.

Karzai, for his part, is not immune from the country's geographical divisions. His performance rating drops to 40 percent in Helmand vs. 72 percent in the rest of the country. And underscoring the impact of development, his rating is 18 points higher in areas where people give a positive rating to the availability of jobs and economic opportunity.

Another result on elections may not be one that Western governments would prefer: Forty-three percent of Afghans say their preferred form of government is an Islamic state, rather than a democracy (32 percent) or strongman rule (23 percent). Support for an Islamic state spikes to 56 percent in the East, bordering Pakistan's tribal areas. But elsewhere such views have changed; in Iraq, support for democracy ultimately soared after a series of successful elections.

ECONOMY/DEVELOPMENT – Economic and development advances are additional factors. After long delay, there are positive reports of development in this impoverished country. Fifty-five percent of Afghans now say they have electricity, up 15 points since 2007. From its low in 2007, there's been a 24-point gain in the number who rate their electrical supply positively – albeit just to 38 percent, indicating the continued need to develop power supply and delivery.

Fifty-six percent report new or rebuilt roads in their area in the past five years, up 21 points from 2007; the number who rate their local infrastructure positively has more than doubled since first measured in 2005. While access to medical care remains a problem, half report new or rebuilt health clinics, up 13 points from 2007. And, in a largely rural nation with heavy reliance on subsistence farming, positive ratings of support for agriculture – availability of seed, fertilizer and equipment – is up by 9 points in the past year, albeit just to 45 percent.

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