Polling in Iraq: Planning, Luck and Tragic Stories

Polling in Iraq takes extensive planning, coordinated effort -- and some luck. Not least is that every interviewer, all Iraqis, returned home safely from the field work for the latest ABC News poll, co-sponsored by USA Today, the BBC and ARD German TV.

That's no small feat. More than 100 people worked in the field to complete the survey, randomly selecting and interviewing 2,212 Iraqi adults in 458 locales across the country from Feb. 25 to March 5. Interviewers and supervisors kept journal entries of their experiences -- and while most were relatively uneventful, that wasn't always the case.

Several brought back harrowing tales of having witnessed some of the bombings, shootings and beatings that, as the survey shows, are widespread in Iraq (see main poll analysis).

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In Diyala province, one interviewer reported, "Two bombs exploded in front of the public market and destroyed it, then dead bodies spread everywhere in front of us in a very awful way."

On March 5, also in Diyala, another wrote, "In front of me, an explosive went off under an American patrol and the other American patrol started random shooting, which almost got all of us killed hadn't it been for the mercy of God Almighty."

Several teams of interviewers were detained and questioned by Iraqi police. Others were harassed; one had his camera smashed by an "armed person." All nonetheless completed their assignments.

FIELD WORK -- Field work for the survey was managed by D3 Systems of Vienna, Va., and KA Research Ltd. of Istanbul, which began jointly polling in Iraq in summer 2004. D3, which specializes in polling in difficult conditions, co-managed the field work for ABC News polls (one of them with the BBC World Service) in Afghanistan in 2005 and 2006.

In Iraq, where it's prohibitively difficult and dangerous to send centralized teams to travel throughout the country, D3/KARL works with a dispersed staff of 190 interviewers on call to 19 district offices across Iraq. The system has held up in deteriorating conditions; D3/KARL has completed a total of more than 140,000 interviews in Iraq to date.

All polling staff in Iraq are Iraqis. For security purposes they're not told the identity of survey sponsors. Field teams include male and female interviewers accompanied by a supervisor; Shiite staff are assigned to Shiite neighborhoods, Sunnis Arabs to Sunni neighborhoods, Kurds to Kurdish areas. In mixed areas, many field workers carry dual forms of identification with separate Shiite- and Sunni-sounding names.

This poll included the participation of 150 field workers in all, including 103 interviewers and 47 supervisory or data processing staff.

LOCAL -- Supervisors' local contacts help: In Wasit province on Feb. 25, an interviewer reported, "during the field work the supervisor was taking pictures when suddenly we realized a police patrol in the region was following us. When they reached us, they started asking us about our work and whose side we are working for, then they took us to the police station.

"The supervisor is a member in the local council and has many good relations, so he was able to deal with the situation and solved the problem. He convinced them that our work is for the benefit of the public and aims to share opinions of the people."

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