Afghanistan and Iraq Polls: "Where Things Stand"

As part of its award-winning "Where Things Stand" series, ABC News has sponsored five national public opinion polls in Afghanistan since 2005 and six in Iraq since 2004. Its coverage of these unique surveys has won several national news awards, including two Emmys, the first in the history of the news Emmys to cite public opinion polls.

Each of these surveys has been conducted through face-to-face interviews, in Dari, Pashto, Arabic and Kurdish, by trained interviewers with random national samples of Afghan and Iraqi adults. Question subjects have ranged from living conditions and experience of violence to personal aspirations, economic and emotional well-being and political and social attitudes.

The surveys have detailed the contours of public opinion in the wake of the U.S.-led invasions of these two countries, providing an essential element to public understanding of conditions there and helping to inform the debate over U.S. and international policy. Over time the data series in each country has traced the aftermath of U.S. and international involvement through success and failure alike.

In Afghanistan, the first ABC News survey found difficult living conditions but strong support for the ousting of the Taliban regime and high expectations for future development. ABC's subsequent surveys through January 2009, however, found growing frustration with the slow pace of development, continued and growing experience of violence and lessened objections to the Taliban in some areas. The latest poll, in December 2009, showed sharp improvements in public views – buoyed by political, economic and military efforts – but significant challenges still remaining. These data have underscored the link between violence levels, development efforts, the presence of both U.S. and Afghan forces and support for their mission.

The surveys in Iraq found initial support for the U.S. invasion, but of a more grudging nature, with sharp differences between Shiite and Sunni Arabs and Kurds in the north. What followed was an increasing spiral of despair as the country descended into sectarian strife, peaking in early 2007; then some improvement as violence subsided in the wake of the surge of U.S. forces and the arrangement of Sunni participation in security efforts. The last poll, in February 2009, found dramatic advances in public attitudes, with improved security and rising economic well-being boosting public confidence and bolstering support for democracy.

Each of these surveys employed rigorous area-probability sampling based on the latest available population data, with randomized household and respondent-selection procedures and back-checks for quality control. They've been supported with photos and video from interviews in the field, and in some cases with journal entries from interviewers describing their sometimes-harrowing field work experiences.

ABC's Afghanistan surveys were conducted by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research, a Kabul-based firm co-owned by D3 Systems (the first three, in conjunction with Charney Research of New York). ABC's last four surveys in Iraq were conducted by D3 Systems of Vienna, Va., and KA Research Ltd. of Istanbul. The first two Iraq polls were conducted by Oxford Research International.

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