The News from Wardak… Badghis… Zabul… Parwan…

Feb 9, 2009 7:43am

In Wardak, “Security is getting worse day by day.” On the outskirts of Kandahar, “There is no control of government.” And in Parwan, “The last explosion had a bad effect on people.”

So reported some of the field teams in our latest national survey of public opinion in Afghanistan, their anecdotal comments underscoring our broader, empirical results – and providing a reminder, as well, of the remarkable work these interviewers undertake.

There were reports of kidnappings, police officers deserting to the Taliban, a householder killed by coalition forces, young people quitting the country to chase opportunity in Iran. But there were brighter ones too – about electrification reaching a village in Takhar, reconstruction in Herat, voter registration in Badghis.

This item isn’t about our results; you can read them here. Instead it’s about the aim of this work – a reminder of what the enterprise of measuring and understanding public opinion is for. If you ever wonder what’s the point of polling, cast a look this way.

Like the five surveys we’ve sponsored in Iraq, our fourth poll in Afghanistan advances our ability to understand the progress and impacts of the U.S. intervention there. What changes have come, what not? What expectations have been met, which dashed? What is life like? What are the problems? Who gets the blame? What have our policies and performance produced in the eyes of the Afghan people?

Answering these questions is central to any effort to come to grips with U.S. foreign and military policy – its costs and benefits, its future course. That’s why our government and others conduct their own extensive public opinion polling in places like Afghanistan, for their own, internal analysis. They want and need to know how they’re doing.

So do we.

Polling makes that possible, by the simplest process: Going to a random sample of individuals and asking them. But nothing’s quite that simple in Afghanistan, where our interviewers traveled in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions to distant settlements in a country that’s three-quarters rural and greatly undeveloped.

Our field operations in Afghanistan are run by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research, a subsidiary of D3 Systems in Vienna, Va. One-hundred-seventy-six trained interviewers working for ACSOR carried out the survey for us. Consider, from ACSOR’s field report, some of what they encountered:

In Parwan: “The last explosion had a bad effect on people, they all seemed afraid and had concern about security. That explosion was in Charikar and killed seven and more than 10 were injured in the attack.”

In Khost: The “way is block(ed) due to heavy snow and people are facing problems when they have illness and other emergency cases. Last week coalition forces searched two houses and they killed the head of the family and injured women and children. These kinds of searches and operations make the people mad and sad.”

In Kandahar: “The city remains relatively calm, but in suburban areas there is no control of government according to the feeling of the people.”

In Ghazni: “There has been an increase in reconstruction projects… but the roads of some districts are blocked due to heavy snow and people are in economic problems.”

In Paktika: “People have complaints about high prices of foods and fuels.”

In Takhar: “Ahangran district villages received electricity and security has improved.”

In Badghis: “Voter registration process has started in the districts. People are starting to register.”

In Nimroz: “Taliban kidnapped two workers of voter registration program and they are searching cars on the roads, people want to have police stations on the whole way.”

In Herat: “There are reconstruction projects in most districts of Herat province and they are discussed by many people. Several members of the police force were arrested for helping Taliban on 30th December… about a dozen others defected to the Taliban.”

In Zabul: “The people encountered by the field team complained about security and there was a sense of dissatisfaction with foreign forces, ANA (Afghan Army) and ANP (police) because they make problems for the people rather than help them. There were also complaints about the lack of medical facilities.”

In Farah: “There is an impression that many younger people are trying to go to Iran to look for work and better security.”

The range of these experiences is reflected in our findings, measuring current attitudes and tracking their change over time. We know what we’ve learned about public opinion in Afghanistan through the tenacity of the survey researchers who went to these corners of the country for us. To them, my thanks.

For details on the poll, see our full analysis here, the methodology here, a photo slideshow here, a chart slideshow here, a summary of Martha Raddatz’s reporting here, and a pdf with the full questionnaire here.

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