A Survey of the Afghan People

Asia Foundation has just released its survey of Afghanistan titled “Afghanistan in 2006: A Survey of the Afghan People.”

The survey is touted as “the single-largest, most comprehensive public opinion poll ever conducted in Afghanistan,” and captures public opinion on issues of security, democracy, poppy cultivation, the media, the economy, the roles of Islam and women in society, the parliamentary elections, as well as attitudes towards governing institutions.

The methodology used is in-person interviews with more than 6,200 men and women across ethnic, regional, and socio-economic lines.

Comments on Methodology

It is important to point out that this methodology (in-person interviews) suffers from shortcomings that are widely acknowledged by most researchers. Regardless of how random the sampling, and how big the sample size, these confounding issues remain. This is why most polls, interviews, and other surveys of public opinion should not be relied on exclusively as the basis of research. However, where there are few other means of gathering information on a subject, surveys like this see wide usage. I am afraid this is common practice when it comes to Afghanistan. (There are however notable exceptions to this where the biases and margins of error that plague most surveys are countered by using other methods. One such exception is the “Measures of Progress” report on Afghanistan put out by CSIS’s Post Conflict Reconstruction project. They produced their first “Measures of Progress” report last year, and a follow-up is expected this year. I will post it on this blog when it is available.)

Surprise Findings

> A whopping 77% of the respondents felt satisfied with the working of democracy in Afghanistan.

> Large majorities (above 85%) of the respondents said that they trusted the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. (This is counter to what the recent report on the state of the Afghan National Police would have suggested.)

> Attitudes towards gender were surprisingly liberal as well (at least for this writer.) A majority of respondents agreed with “equal rights regardless of gender, ethnicity, and religion.”

These findings amount to much-needed positive PR for both the governments of Afghanistan and the US.

And then there are not so surprising findings. Perceptions of corruption are widespread. 75% felt that the government did not care about their opinion. Poverty and a poor economy are cited as top concerns.

A Word of Caution

Overall the survey’s findings are positive. People are optimistic, they are satisfied with the process of democratization, and their identification of problems and issues are reasonable.

However, consider the following finding:

“Although, as a principle, 84 percent of the respondents felt that the overnment should allow peaceful opposition, on a personal level 63 ercent said they would not allow political parties they disliked to hold meetings in their area.”

What this points to is a clear dichotomy between “in principal” and “in action” in the mind of the respondents. It shows that there is not a necessary continuity between the views that people profess and what they really believe in (as demonstrated by their willingness to act on their beliefs.) For instance, while attitudes towards political opposition are liberal, most respondents said that they would not tolerate meetings of those they do not agree with. One can imagine how such “in principal” professions such as “equal rights regardless of gender, ethnicity, and religion” would not necessarily carry over when it comes to action.

Link to the Survey

A PDF copy of the survey is available here.

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