New Poll Gauges Opinion in Iraq In a recent opinion poll, ABC News asked more than 2,000 Iraqis about their attitudes toward the war. Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News, discusses the responses that were gathered, and talks about how life has changed for Iraqis since the war's start.
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New Poll Gauges Opinion in Iraq

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New Poll Gauges Opinion in Iraq

New Poll Gauges Opinion in Iraq

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Today, Congress is hearing from General Petraeus about conditions in Iraq since the U.S. troop surge six months ago. But what do Iraqis have to say about post-surge Iraq? A new poll conducted by ABC News may be able to answer that question. They asked over 20 - or 2,000 Iraqis across the country about their experiences and attitudes.

Gary Langer is the director of polling for ABC News and he joins us from ABC Studios in New York. Welcome to the program.

Mr. GARY LANGER (Director of Polling, ABC News): Thank you, John.

YDSTIE: We'd especially like to hear from the Iraqis in our audience. Have you been in touch with friends and family back in Iraq? What are they telling you? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And you can comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

So Gary Langer, you polled over 2,000 Iraqis across the country about their experiences and attitudes, and what did you find?

Mr. LANGER: John, it's a really distinctly negative picture of public attitudes in Iraq. This is our fourth national public opinion poll there. All of them with face-to-face interviews by Iraqi interviewers traveling across the country, interviewing randomly selected respondents of representative national survey. And really, whatever General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker have concluded Iraqis' own assessments of the surge in U.S. forces is broadly negative.

Barely a quarter say their own security has improved in the last six months. More than that say it's gotten worse. And we also see broader growing dissatisfaction with living conditions in Iraq, worsening optimism for the future, concerns about political gridlock and the growth in anti-U.S. sentiment as well.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. And how did - has Iraqi public opinion changed since the surge? Do you know that? Have you done this polling before?

Mr. LANGER: Yeah. This is our fourth national poll in Iraq. And the change from the first to this one is the most striking. We saw surprising levels of optimism in Iraq when we first polled there. That was back in February 2004. The biggest change we saw was in our last poll, before this one in March this past year, in March 2007, which is a dramatic decline in public perceptions of living conditions, of progress in the country, much greater pessimism for the future, and much greater rejection of the U.S. role in Iraq.

Now, those have continued in large part over the last six months. In many cases, have worsened and in very few cases do we see improvement. A few, spotty, inconsistent gains here and there, but the big picture is really quite negative.

YDSTIE: Are - is there any sign of the hopes that General Petraeus has been suggesting in terms of better security in Anbar province, those sorts of things?

Mr. LANGER: Well, it's a good example. In Anbar, for example, 38 percent of the residents there give a positive rating to their own security in the area where they live. That's better than it was six months ago when no one in Anbar gave a positive rating to local security. So that is an improvement.

But it's a spotty improvement. There are other measures of local security that we used in terms of feeling safe and in which we see no change. And broadly, whatever the situation in Anbar in that respect, anti-American sentiment is sky high, particularly in Anbar, as it has been since the beginning, but elsewhere around the country as well.

To the point now - in this survey, 63 percent of Iraqis say the U.S. invasion of their country was wrong. That's up 11 points in the last six months. It's up from 39 percent when we first polled. Fifty-seven percent of Iraqis and much higher in Anbar call attacks on U.S. forces acceptable. Indeed, for the first time in our polling, a plurality of Iraqis, again, across the country, say the United States should leave now.

YDSTIE: Hmm. And what do Iraqis think about their future?

Mr. LANGER: This is perhaps, I think, the greatest concern in many ways in the survey for that country is the loss of optimism, the loss of hope, perhaps, that we see in this country.

When we first asked in November - in February '04 again, seven in ten Iraqis said that they expected their lives to get better in the year ahead. When we last polled in March, 35 percent said the same and it dropped by half. In this poll, only 29 percent of Iraqis expect their lives to improve in the year ahead. That loss of hope, that increased pessimism about the future is really powerful because crushed or loss expectations or hopes is - can be really toxic in terms of holding a society together or watching it fall apart. It's a great concern, I think.

YDSTIE: We're talking to Gary Langer, director of polling at ABC News about a new poll of Iraqis. Over 2,000 Iraqis polled by ABC News. You can ask questions if you call us at 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK or you can e-mail us at talk@npr.org.

Now, tell us a little bit about doing this poll. It must be very difficult.

Mr. LANGER: It's a challenging process, conducting a representative, scientific survey in Iraq. It's an - what's called an area of probability sample in which we randomly select sampling points around the country. In this case, 457 individual, randomly selected sampling points. Interviewers - Iraqi interviewers go to those points and then take a random walk procedure in which they head off in a prescribed direction, randomly knock on doors, randomly selected interview respondents.

Some of these locations were remarkably far-flung. There was one spot in the Basra marshes, a village so remote that the interviewing team had to leave their car, take a donkey cart and eventually a local, kind of, canoe called a mash-hoof to get to the village, where they then proceeded to do their samplings. Others elsewhere were equally remote. And, of course, there are other problems as well. There were many roadblocks. We had teams, as we have in the past, detained by people manning roadblocks, held for questioning. Ultimately, all of our interviewers were released and came back with their data.

YDSTIE: And do you think you can get a fair and accurate sampling using this method?

Mr. LANGER: Oh, there's no question. I think it's the best way to do it. You know, if you want to know what's going on in Iraq, I think it's essential to sample and ask a random sample of ordinary Iraqis, and that's what we've done here. It was important that this project, for example, have a completely Iraqi face on the ground. Even the interviewers didn't know there was an American firm behind it, and that's because the United States is so broadly negatively seen in Iraq and therefore for their own safety as well.

But it's a tried and true practice this area of probability sampling. There can be problems with population disruption, but we've done our best to get a good sample. We used the exact same methodology in this survey as we did six months ago so we can be very confident in our comparisons overtime. And I think it's a unique and irreplaceable window on what's happening in Iraq.

The military assessments are going to be more, I don't know, almost actuarial in sense - a number of bombings, the number of bodies, the number of attacks. Attitudes don't work entirely that way. When Iraqis think about their situation, they're taking into account their security in terms of the number and the level of attacks, but also their living conditions, which are very difficult in Iraq right now; their view of the economic situation, their view of the national government and the way it's operating. And all these are really quite negative.

YDSTIE: I understand you also have some interesting findings about the ethnic makeup of the population of Iraq. That it isn't what we thought it was.

Mr. LANGER: Well, this is really quite interesting. It's commonly reported that Iraq is a majority Shiite nation. And as far as we can see, this comes from a really quite dated and unsourced reference in a CIA World Factbook, which suggests that it's perhaps 65 percent Shiite, and minority, perhaps 20 or 25 percent Sunni Arab. But the data we see don't provide any source for this and it seems to be an unsourced claim.

In our own surveys, for example - the one we did last March - 47 percent of respondents were Shiite and 35 percent Sunni Arab. We went back in the field this early, interested if we'd see that again and indeed we have almost exactly the same data this time. And now, we're up to over forty-four hundred interviews around the country in these two samples in more than 900 sampling points. It's good solid empirical data, and it suggests that it's not necessarily a majority Shiite country.

YDSTIE: That could have a significant effect on U.S. policy, I would think?

Mr. LANGER: It's not impossible especially if you look at the political gridlock that we see continuing in Iraq. Indeed, if it were a solid majority country of one of the other doctrine perhaps that would have been resolved sooner. And the fact that it continues to be something the country struggles with, suggests again, I think, that our data are worth considering in that regard.

YDSTIE: Let's go to caller, David(ph) in Fort Myers, Florida. David, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

DAVID (Caller): Hey, I was wondering did you ask the question would they rather have Saddam back or not.

Mr. LANGER: We didn't ask that question in this survey, but we did ask if they thought that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was the right thing or the wrong thing for the United States to have done. A pretty similar question, I think.

DAVID: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LANGER: Of course, there's an enormous difference, again, by religious doctrines. Sunnis remain furious about it. They were the empowered group under Saddam. Shiite Arabs are much happy about it, and Kurds are perhaps happiest of all. But what's interesting is that when we first asked that question, 39 percent of Iraqis said it was wrong, back in '04. And in this most recent poll, 63 percent of Iraqis said it was wrong for the U.S. to invade their country.

YDSTIE: Anything else, David?

DAVID: I don't think that's the same way of asking the question. I think, you know, would you rather - saying would you rather have Saddam in power, and you just said that people have a very negative view of the United States. Well, to ask would you rather have the United States come in to your country, well, naturally the answer is going to be no when you put it as the United States because, you know, we're the bad guys pretty much for everybody over there.

Mr. LANGER: Well, you know, I might add. One thing I'd suggest is our full survey not only our analysis, but the entire questionnaire as Iraqis heard it and their overall responses to each question are up and posted on abcnews.com and I'd welcome you to go over to the Web site, take a look through the questionnaire and see what you think.

YDSTIE: All right. Thanks, David.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Gary, any good news that you can sift out of this poll?

Mr. LANGER: Yeah, sure. There are few glimmers in here, both for Iraqis and for the United States as well, I think. Fewer Iraqis, for example, now blame the United States for most of the violence that's occurring in the country. At least fewer blame U.S. forces. It was 31 percent when we last asked. It's 19 percent now. There were other heartening results for Iraq itself. Reports of ethnic cleansing, if you will, the forced separation of people on sectarian grounds, continues in Iraq. And that's quite disturbing. What's more heartening is that Iraqis almost unanimously oppose it. They're not in favor of that separation on sectarian lines.

Another, I think, is that despite the country's problems, the majority of Iraqis, although it has declined, continue to want Iraq to remain a single, unified country with the central government in Baghdad, if there's a way to make that happen.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Let's go to David(ph), another David, in Lansing, Michigan. Hello, David. You're on the air.

DAVID (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon, and thank you for taking my call. I had a question about way in which the servicing or the survey or the canvassing had been performed, because it's interesting that this topic has just come up. I just read an article in a magazine about another survey that was done, and the thing that this article pointed out was that the person or the paper conducting the survey had used all Sunni people to perform their interviews.

YDSTIE: What about that, Gary? Were your interviews a cross section of Iraqis?

Mr. LANGER: Yeah. Indeed. By the way, there's also a very detailed description of our methodological approach on abcnews.com. We used both Sunni and Shiite interviewers. In fact, for security reasons, largely, we mainly sent Sunni interviewers to Sunni areas and Shiite interviewers to Shiite areas. In mixed areas, interestingly, interviewers tended to carry two forms of identification - one with this Sunni-sounding name and the other with a Shiite-sounding name. Interviewers traveled in teams of three - a man, a woman, and a supervisor. Again, there was full random sampling of respondents. Sixty-nine percent of the interviews were either monitored by a supervisor or back-checked by a supervisor, so we had a pretty high level of methodological rigor here.

YDSTIE: Has that answered your question, David?

DAVID: Yes, I think, it did. And where can I go to look at this information?

Mr. LANGER: Up at abcnews.com, you'll find it up on the homepage. And click through their separate stories on the analysis, on the results and on the methodology as well.

DAVID: Okay. Thank you very much.

YDSTIE: Thanks, David. Let's go to John(ph) in Ohio. Hello, John. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JOHN (Caller): Hey. How are you doing?

YDSTIE: Good. Good. You got a question or a comment?

JOHN: Yeah. I was just wondering what the feeling on the ground, so to speak, is, in Iraq among the citizenry there with regard to - it seems they don't approve as much of the actual invasion by American forces. But what is the feeling seemed to be with regards to how their quality of life would improve or deteriorate if we pulled out immediately? And the sectarian violence that is being predicted could erupt without an American military front to stop that from happening.

YDSTIE: Good question, John.

Mr. LANGER: It's a good question. And there are substantial concerns among ordinary Iraqis about what happens after the United States withdraws -particularly if that happens without civil order first being restored in which substantial numbers of Iraqis foresee further or worse sectarian violence, perhaps parts of Iraq being taken over by Iran next door. And also, parts of Iraq being - basically becoming de facto basis for international terrorists. These are significant concerns in the country.

Again, with great ethnic or sectarian differences, there are much higher concerns particularly among Sunni Arabs about the take over of parts of Iraq by Iran, for example. Many Iraqis seem to feel the country, you know, currently is faced with both an untenable present and an untenable future. And that, I think, informs a lot of the pessimism we see. While the United States is enormously unpopular in Iraq, so is Iran, so is Saudi Arabia, so is Syria. And, indeed, there is almost unanimous disapproval of the activities of al-Qaida in Iraq. So it's not as though Iraqis see any better alternative, it's that they more that they don't see any alternative.

YDSTIE: You - did you asked about a way forward? What they would propose as a way forward?

Mr. LANGER: Well, one question we asked is whether the United States should withdraw from Iraq now or remain until security is restored or other options. And, again, we saw another increase - the latest we've seen - in the number of Iraqis who say the United States should immediately withdraw and that's simply because there was a broad sense of that the U.S. presence is making things worse after this long period of difficulty and deprivation in Iraq. So 47 percent of Iraqis, a plurality for the first time, said the U.S. should withdraw now. We know that politically, most Iraqis continue to...

YDSTIE: Oops, I think we've lost our guest, Gary Langer. Gary Langer is the director of polling for ABC News and he joined us from ABC Studios in New York City.

Mr. LANGER: Did I drop out?

YDSTIE: Yeah. I guess you're back.

Mr. LANGER: Oh, good.

YDSTIE: Just in time for us to thank you.

Mr. LANGER: My pleasure.

YDSTIE: Gary Langer is the director of polling for ABC News and he joined us from ABC Studios in New York City. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. LANGER: Thank you, John.

YDSTIE: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

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