Sunday, July 03, 2005

# Posted 2:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS EVERYBODY IN IRAQ INSANE (EXCEPT FOR THE INSURGENTS)? I found this buried in an op-ed by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:
According to the latest surveys, more than 60 percent of Iraqis say their country is moving in the right direction, more than 70 percent expect life to get better for themselves in the future and 90 percent consider violence illegitimate for any political purpose. Most have confidence in the nascent Iraqi security forces and expect them to keep getting better.
What are those Iraqis smoking? What's the last time 60 percent of Americans thought their country was moving in the right direction? If only those god***n Iraqis would pick up a newspaper they would realize that their lives are a godforsaken, crime-ridden, car-bomb saturated, no-electrity-and no-running-water mess? What the hell are they optimistic about? Democracy?

Of course, one possibility is that the polls O'Hanlon cites are simply inaccurate. According to OxBlog's personal gadfly, WAB,

Ten days ago the Boston Globe [no link] reported: "a recent internal poll conducted for the US-led coalition found that nearly 45 percent of the population supported the insurgent attacks, making accurate intelligence difficult to obtain. Only 15 percent of those polled said they strongly supported the US-led coalition." Now, I'm not saying this is correct -- and in fact I regard this form of reporting poll results as highly irresponsible...

But if you look over the whole range of results of polling in Iraq over the last two years, you'll see a great deal of inconsistency and volatility. The truth is that the Iraqi population as a whole is full of diverse tendencies, ambivalence, mixed feelings, uncertainty -- very largely "uncrystallized".

In this kind of context, you tell me what you want a poll to show and I will design a sample, a questionnaire, and an interviewer protocol that will produce those results -- in fact, I could design two simultaneous polls of the same population that would produce highly disparate results -- all without grossly violating the standards of practice that are in fact being used.

It certainly worth keeping in mind all the problems presented by polling in a warzone like Iraq. But the results O'Hanlon cites are so astounding that I don't see how any methodological issues could be responsible for the results. Even if you knocked 20% off of O'Hanlon's numbers, wouldn't it still be astonishing to know that 40% of Iraqi think that Iraq is headed in the right direction and that 50% expect their own lives to get better?

And in case you're wondering, partisan politics are not responsible for O'Hanlon's results. He is a Democrat who has never hesitated to criticize Bush. In fact, most of his op-ed does just that. Also, O'Hanlon is a very, very smart guy and would not use any partisan results prodcuced by Republican operations in Iraq. He is a serious scholar and I have always found him to take great care with his research.
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