Reports of Taliban engagements with government or foreign troops is down by 12 points (with enormous regional variability); arson attacks on school or government buildings, down by 18 points from the 2006 peak. Some of this, however, could relate to lessened activity in the midst of winter; the 2006 and 2007 polls were conducted in late fall, while this poll was conducted in late December and early January.
In any case there's been a significant drop in the number of Afghans who call the U.S.-led invasion and overthrow of the Taliban a good thing for their country – 69 percent, still a substantial majority but well below the 88 percent who said so in 2006. And while 63 percent still support the presence of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, that's down from 78 percent in 2006, with "strong" support for the U.S. presence down from 30 percent then to just 12 percent now. It's similar now for NATO/ISAF forces.
CONDITIONS – Afghanistan's problems range far beyond security in general and the Taliban in particular. For one, official corruption has swelled; 85 percent of Afghans call it a problem and 63 percent call it a big problem – the latter up from 45 percent last year. And half say corruption has increased in the past year, more than twice as many as say it's subsided.
It takes a toll: Ratings for the Afghan government and Karzai personally run anywhere from 9 to 15 points lower among people who call corruption a major problem, compared with those who call it a less serious concern.
The cost of corruption may be a particular burden in a country so poor, its population strikingly ill-educated, with extraordinarily difficult living conditions. Fifty-five percent have no electricity whatsoever in their homes; just one in 20 has power all day. More than half report incomes less than the equivalent of $100 a month; 93 percent, under $300. Fifty-nine percent have no formal education. Forty-eight percent cannot read.
The affordability of food is worsening: Sixty-three percent of Afghans say they cannot afford to buy all or even "some but not all" of the food they need, up 9 points from late 2007. And while 63 percent report adequate availability of food (regardless of affordability), that's down from 82 percent in 2006.
Fuel prices, likewise, are a major problem; 68 percent say they can't afford the fuel they need for cooking or heat, a serious issue in the cold Afghan winter.
Other ratings of local conditions tell a mixed story – some better, others worse – but some of the most basic measures have weakened. While 62 percent of Afghans rate their overall living conditions positively, that's declined steadily from 83 percent in 2005. Just 29 percent say there's a good supply of jobs or economic opportunities in their area. And the number who characterize their economic opportunities as "very bad" has doubled since 2006 – from 17 percent then to 33 percent now, one in three Afghans.
Electricity supply is steadily the single biggest complaint, along with economic opportunity and prices. Another poorly rated area is support for agriculture, such as the availability of seed, fertilizer and farm equipment, a central concern in a country that's three-quarters rural, with food prices so problematic.