Public opinion in Iraq: Some interesting results

As election time nears in Iraq, some interesting poll results, via John Cole:

Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.

Surprisingly, given the insurgents’ attacks on Iraqi civilians, more than six in 10 Iraqis feel very safe in their own neighborhoods, up sharply from just 40 percent in a poll in June 2004. And 61 percent say local security is good—up from 49 percent in the first ABC News poll in Iraq in February 2004.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a “single strong leader.”)

Whatever the current problems, 69 percent of Iraqis expect things for the country overall to improve in the next year—a remarkable level of optimism in light of the continuing violence there. However, in a sign of the many challenges ahead, this optimism is far lower in Sunni Arab-dominated provinces, where just 35 percent are optimistic about the country’s future.

However:

Fewer than half, 46 percent, say the country is better off now than it was before the war. And half of Iraqis now say it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004.

The number of Iraqis who say things are going well in their country overall is just 44 percent, far fewer than the 71 percent who say their own lives are going well. Fifty-two percent instead say the country is doing badly.

… Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.

Overall, I think (as does John) that this adds up to a positive picture more than a negative one. The growth of pro-democracy attitudes and the decline of support for Islamic state are particularly encouraging. That 6 out of 10 Iraqis disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq is not surprising; if anything (given how mismanaged the occupation has been) the figure is surprisingly low. Note, too, some contradiction in the numbers: two-thirds oppose the U.S./coalition presence, but fewer than half want to see U.S. forces leave seen. (Does this mean that a sizable proportion of Iraqis don’t like the presence of American troops, but recognize it as necessary for the time being?)

I also find it remarkable that, even with continuing insurgent violence and the disarray in the country, half of Iraqis do not believe it was wrong for the U.S. to invade (and in February 2004 the corresponding figure was 40%). It’s a remarkable figure in view of the fact that no one likes being occupied — particularly people in a culture with strong traditional beliefs about honor and faith, and particularly when the occupiers are of a different religion.

It is also worth remembering that people who believe the invasion was wrong include those who, in my view, have no moral authority in the matter: those who enjoyed a privileged position under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and loyally served his regime.

This is why, whatever misgivings I may have about the wisdom of this war (particularly in view of its mismanagement), I categorically reject the view that it was a crime against the Iraqi people. If the U.S. has committed a crime against the Iraqi people, it was encouraging them to rebel against Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and then leaving the Hussein regime in place and abandoning those who rebelled to their horrible fate.

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Public opinion in Iraq: Some interesting results

  1. Pooh

    Don’t U.S. polls show something similar? (maybe we screwed up by going in the first place, but while we are there might as well get it right.)

    Light blogging indeed.

  2. Revenant

    It is interesting that satisfaction ratings seem to drop the further removed the subject is from the issue in question. E.g., their personal security and economic sitation is good, but their perception of everybody *else’s* security and economic situation is poor.

    You see a similar phenomenon here in the United States — people rate their own situation highly, but that of the nation as a whole poorly. There’s a false perception that, if you’re doing pretty well, you’re the exception to the rule.

  3. Revenant

    I’d couch it differently: Standard human optimism. In study after study, the amount of people who believe they are above average is well over 50 percent.

    Well, except that you can be wrong about being above average. You can’t be wrong about having a good life, nor can you be wrong about being satisfied with how things are going in your life.

  4. William R. Barker

    CATHY WROTE…

    I categorically reject the view that it [the war] was a crime against the Iraqi people. If the U.S. has committed a crime against the Iraqi people, it was encouraging them to rebel against Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and then leaving the Hussein regime in place and abandoning those who rebelled to their horrible fate.

    ——————————

    Hey, Cath… have I ever mentioned how much I HATE George H.W. Bush – i.e. George the Elder?

    I hate him for betraying Ronald Reagan. I hate him for lying to the American people re: “Read my lips.” But most of all… I hate him for what he did to the Kurds and other anti-Hussein Iraqis.

    I’m 43. My first vote was for Ronald Reagan! Although I was never a “down the line” Republican I voted for President Reagan again in 1984 and for George H.W. Bush in 1988.

    By the end of Bush the Elder’s term in office I had officially re-registered as a member of the Conservative Party here in New York and on election day 1992 voted for Ross Perot knowing full well that by doing this I was hurting Bush’s chances to beat Clinton.

    Actually… and call this an example of naivete… I wasn’t really worried that Clinton would be a disaster back in 1992. Of course I would have rather had Perot win, but if it had been a two man race between Bush and Clinton back in 1992 I would have either not voted for president or voted Clinton.

    We should have overthrown Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War… the one that really never ended and led directly and inevitably to the Second Gulf War. I blame Powell, Snowcroft, Bush, and both the Republican and Democratic foreign policy establishments of the time for this miscalculation.

    But beyond that… as you pointed out… by urging the Iraqis to rebel against Saddam’s regime after the First Gulf war and then leaving them in the lurch to literally be slaughtered… George H.W. Bush gave the U.S. a black eye and a reputation for betrayal that haunts us to this day.

    I apologize if this post is slightly off topic, but when I read Cathy’s line about the betrayal of the Kurds… well… it made me want to share something concerning my so-called “partisanship.”

  5. Synova

    Just a thought about the mismanagment of the war and occupation.

    To an extent I think it’s inevitable. Decisions are made about the future and since no one I know can see the future it’s only ever going to be a guess, for better or worse.

    I think that’s why most service members don’t hate the president quite as much as they are “supposed” to. Be it questions of armor or decisions about Falluja… sure, complaining is a fine military art, but everyone *expects* there to be wrong decisions among the right ones and as long as the general average falls down on the positive side, it’s all good.

  6. Pooh

    Well, except that you can be wrong about being above average. You can’t be wrong about having a good life, nor can you be wrong about being satisfied with how things are going in your life.

    Well, they are somewhat linked. If you believe yourself to be have a good life, and to be above average, it stands to reason that you think that most people are worse off. It isn’t that far a jump to “people rate their own situation highly, but that of the nation as a whole poorly”

    But I think we’re mostly agreeing, using different language. (It seems you and I do that a lot.)

  7. Paul

    What is your source of these figures ?

  8. Cathy Young

    Paul, is your question addressed to me?

    Just check out the links in my post.

  9. Anonymous

    Having followed the links, I’m somewhat reassured, but still a little dubious, about the survey methods. They polled about 1,500 Iraqis, spread across the country, which is good. But I find it hard to believe they went door-to-door—the risks would just be too great. So—is this basically a poll of Iraqis who work on military bases and their families? In which case the news is fairly grim, if the group of Iraqis one would expect to be most pro-Coalition is so on-the-fence. Of course, that might not be the case—it’s just hard to know from the ABC News article.

  10. Revenant

    But I find it hard to believe they went door-to-door—the risks would just be too great. So—is this basically a poll of Iraqis who work on military bases and their families?

    According to the poll, the sample was random and the interviews were conducted in person. So the answer to your question is “no, unless the pollsters are lying”.

    By the way, why would there be huge risks associated with a door-to-door poll?

  11. Anonymous

    I feel weird about being anonymous, but I don’t *wanna* set up a blogger account…

    Revenant—there’d be security problems associated with going door-to-door because of the risk of getting dragged to a basement and beheaded, even if it was Iraqis conducting the polls, which I don’t think it was due to the noted presence of translators. Random is promising, but of course, it almost certainly isn’t truly random—again, I doubt they were standing on street corners stopping people.

  12. Revenant

    there’d be security problems associated with going door-to-door because of the risk of getting dragged to a basement and beheaded

    Is there some reason to believe that that is a significant risk? Thus far only a few hundred foreign workers have died in Iraq in the invasion, and virtually all of the deaths were either the result of bomb attacks, convoy attacks, or accidents.

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