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

Afghan Election, Economy, Living Conditions

More generally, support for the presence of U.S. and NATO forces is 18 points higher among people who rate their local security positively, 26 points higher where reports of violence are lower and also 26 points higher where there's no coalition bombing reported. Similarly, where the presence of U.S. and NATO forces is seen as strong, 67 percent report confidence in the ability of these forces to provide security, 73 percent rate their performance positively and fewer blame Kabul or the West for the country's violence.

BEHIND IT – Given the continued challenges, a fundamental question is what's behind the improvements in Afghans' attitudes about their country's direction and leadership. The answer appears to be a variety of elements rather than one silver bullet.

As noted, relief in the election's end is a strong factor; the promise of stability can be appealing, fears of civil unrest after the disputed election were not realized and Karzai's endorsement by several of his leading opponents may have carried weight.

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.

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