Saturday, November 21, 2009

More mysteries of Afghan public opinion (via Mark Kleiman)

That Oxfam survey of Afghans that I just discussed reminded me of a recent post by Mark Kleiman about the Asia Foundation’s survey of 6000 Afghans conducted in the summer of 2009.

Mark pointed out that the results of the Asia Foundation survey raise some interesting questions. In the US and Europe, current discussions about Afghanistan take for granted a situation of crisis and impending catastrophe (for which some evidence does, indeed, exist). But the responses to the Asia Foundation's survey suggest that most Afghans feel the situation in their country (though terrible) is actually improving. For example:
• In 2009, 42 percent of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction.
This figure is higher than in 2008 (38%). Similarly, 29 percent feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction compared to 32 percent in 2008, signaling a check on the trend of declining optimism that had been evident since 2006.
• The main reason for optimism continues to be good security which has been mentioned by an increasing proportion of respondents each year, from 31 percent in 2006 to 44 percent in 2009. More respondents in 2009 also mention reconstruction and rebuilding (36%) and opening of schools for girls (21%) as reasons for optimism than in previous years.
And so on. Of course, responses varied significantly between different parts of the country (and thus, presumably, between different ethnic groups). Still, as Mark (correctly) observed:
Maybe things have gotten worse since the summer [JW: the election debacle can't have helped matters], but this is hardly the picture of hopelessness I’ve been getting from the newspapers.
What should be make of this--if anything? I'm not sure. But these somewhat counter-intuitive polling results (see the rest of Mark's post below) may help remind us of how complex, multi-leveled, murky, and uncertain the situation in Afghanistan actually is. So we should probably be cautious about jumping to conclusions, and perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to panic, either (though only a fool would feel complacent).

--Jeff Weintraub
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Mark Kleiman (The Reality-Based Community)
October 30, 2009
Is Afghanistan on the “right track”?

Key findings from the Asia Foundation’s survey of 6000 Afghans, conducted over the summer:

• In 2009, 42 percent of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction.
This figure is higher than in 2008 (38%). Similarly, 29 percent feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction compared to 32 percent in 2008, signaling a check on the trend of declining optimism that had been evident since 2006.

• The main reason for optimism continues to be good security which has been mentioned by an increasing proportion of respondents each year, from 31 percent in 2006 to 44 percent in 2009. More respondents in 2009 also mention reconstruction and rebuilding (36%) and opening of schools for girls (21%) as reasons for optimism than in previous years.

• Insecurity also remains the most important reason for pessimism, cited by 42 percent of respondents. However, the proportion of respondents that highlight insecurity in 2009 has fallen since 2008 when half of respondents (50%) emphasized this factor.

• Insecurity (including attacks, violence and terrorism) is identified as the biggest problem in Afghanistan by over a third of respondents (36%), particularly in the South East (48%), West (44%) and South West (41%). However, concern about other issues such as unemployment (35%), poor economy (20%), corruption (17%), poverty (11%) and education (11%) has increased in 2009 compared to 2008.

Maybe things have gotten worse since the summer, but this is hardly the picture of hopelessness I’ve been getting from the newspapers.

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