Iraqi Public Opinion

On the eve of the elections, I thought I’d read the reports from the February 2004 and November 2005 National Survey of Iraq polls side by side, to see what the changes have been over time on the questions that were asked both times around, as I’ve found a number of presentations of the numbers on different blogs and in various media reports a bit annoying.

There’s a little bit of a shift in the “how are things going in your life” figures — more people are plumping for “very good” as opposed to “quite good” and more are choosing “quite bad” rather than “very bad”, but the overall numbers in the two main camps – good and bad – remain the about the same, with about 70% of people saying “good” and a little under 30% saying “bad”. But there’s certainly a small movement towards the people who are content with their lot over the last two years.

On the other hand, ask the same people how their lives compare with the way they were before the war, and another small shift is discernible, but this time towards people who think things are going less well for them. Numbers reporting things as being “much better” and “somewhat better” are down by 1.3% and 3.7% at 20.6% and 30.9% respectively; numbers saying things are “somewhat worse” or “much worse” are up by 6.4% and 4.3%, and now stand at 19.1% and 10.2%.

And people are slightly less optimistic about their prospects over the next 12 months than they were in February 2004, though the optimistis still heavily outnumber the pessimists. 34.9% think things will be “much better” (down 1.8%); 29.3% think they will be “somewhat better” (down 5%); 7.3% think things will be “somewhat worse” (up 4.1%); and 5.2% think things will be “much worse” (up 1.8%).

Support for a unitary Iraq remains high, but is falling. 79% of respondents opted for a “unified Iraq with central government in Baghdad” in February 2004; that’s now down to 70%, with support for a federal government up from 14% to 17.6% and support for partition rising from 3.8% to 9.1%.

In February 2004, 15.1% of those polled thought the coalition forces should “leave now”; that’s now up to 25.5%, which seems a pretty big shift. In the earlier poll 18.3% thought they should stay “until security is restored”; that’s now up to 30.9% — though I think the data here isn’t comparable, as respondents faced a different set of choices each time the poll was conducted.

The occupying forces aren’t especially popular. In February 2004 13.2% of Iraqis “strongly supported” the presence of coalition forces, now only 12.8% do, which is a trivial shift, as is the shift from 19.6% to 20.8% among those who “somewhat oppose” the presence of the troops. Less trivial, though, are the other two shifts in opinion: those who “somewhat support” their presence have fallen from 26.3% to 19.4%; those who “strongly oppose” the presence of occupying forces has risen from 31.3% to a substantial 43.7%.

The question about whether the occupying forces have done a good job or not wasn’t asked last time around, which was a shame, although I’d hazard a guess that there hasn’t been much change here: the answers to a different question from February 2004, about how much confidence Iraqis had in the occupying forces has a very similar profile. Thus in 2004 7.9% reported “a great deal of confidence”, 17.4% reported “quite a lot”, 23.5% reported “not very much” and 42.8% reported “none at all”. And these look pretty similar to the answers this time around to the “have done a good job” question, where 9.6% said “a very good job”, 26.6% said “quite a good job”, 18.8 said “quite a bad job” and 39.8% said “a very bad job”. But these weren’t the same questions, so comparisons are hazardous.

UPDATE [15.12.2004]: I forgot to include the stats on the “was the coalition right to invade in 2003” question, though I think you know how this one goes by now. Here there’s a shift away from the thought that it was the right thing to do at all levels, which takes the belief that the invasion was wrong above the 50% level: 18.6% think it was “absolutely right” (down 1%); 27.8% think it “somewhat right” (down 1%); 17.2% think it “somewhat wrong” (up 4.3%); 33.1% think it “absolutely wrong” (up 6.9%), with the 12.7% of people who found it “difficult to say” in 2004 now making up a mere 3.5% of the population.

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