May 2, 2004

Polling Iraqis.

USA Today has a fascinating poll of 3,444 Iraqis. It surprised me that only 21% of Iraqis have a telephone (though 95% have TV and 72% have a radio). How can decent polls be done? In fact, the polling was all done in person, with the average interview lasting 70 minutes. 98% of those asked to participate agreed.

Reading over the poll questions, I try to think what impression is made on those being interviewed. This isn't a propangandizing push poll, but a professional, neutral poll that invites the interviewee to think rationally and fairly with questions like:
To what extent can you personally justify the following actions morally: can be completely justified; can be somewhat justified, can be justified sometimes, sometimes cannot; somewhat cannot be justified; cannot be justified at all:

A. U.S.-British military action in Iraq

B. Current attacks against US forces in Iraq

C. Attacks and bombings targeting Iraqi police

I'm struck by how many Iraqis, answering questions put in this form, give the moderate "somewhat" and "sometimes" answers, and it makes me think the poll itself has the effect--perhaps especially in a face-to-face interview--of making people want to think about all the angles and take a sophisticated view of the complexities. Perhaps being polled so intelligently inherently draws the interviewee into the pleasures and responsibilities of a free political society.

Of all the questions on the poll, the most decisively clear answer, given by all the groups surveyed, is to this question:
After the invasion of Iraq by US and British forces, which of the following, if any, happened to you personally or to members of your household ... Afraid to worship?

All of the groups reported that they had this fear before the war: Total 54%, Bagdad 67%, Shi'ite areas 82%, Sunni areas 28%. The numbers today are dramatically lower: 5%, 8%, 4%, 5%. Even when asked about whether they had had this fear "at some point since invasion," the numbers were about as low: 5%, 10%, 5%, 5%.

On the other hand, the information about how well we are doing rebuilding Iraq is disheartening. On these questions the Kurds are also critical of our efforts, and they are wildly supportive of us elsewhere in the poll. This is very troubling. There may be a lot to do, but when even most Kurds don't think we are seriously trying to improve matters, how can we think we are doing well enough?