What Do Iraqis Think About the War?

It would be stretch to say a new poll of Iraqi public opinion by the U.K. firm Opinion Research Business is getting a lot of attention. But the poll, which first appeared in the press late last week in the Rupert Murdoch-owned papers The Times of London and The Australian, seems to be getting noticed more widely. Today, the Chicago Tribune has a story on the ORB poll, and National Review Online has a piece by Richard Nadler examining its findings.

Those findings were generally much more positive than past surveys.

Nadler says the poll’s findings will provide ammunition for both sides of the Iraq debate, but says it deserves attention either way:

Supporters of Operation Iraqi Freedom will be buoyed by a new poll of Iraqis showing high levels of support for the Baghdad security plan and the elected government implementing it. War opponents will cite the survey’s report of Iraqi dissatisfaction with foreign occupation. Serious analysts of all persuasions should give this poll, conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB), a close look.

The main reason it deserves attention is that “ORB pollsters have doubled the sample size of the best previous polls, and have compiled statistically significant samples in all 18 of Iraq’s ‘governates,’ or states,” Nadler writes.

Given the difficulty of conducting opinion polls in war zones, and especially in societies like Iraq’s where the practice is alien and pollsters are likely to be viewed with suspicion, the large sample size would seem, all else being equal, to give this poll more claim to validity than some that have been conducted in the past. Of course “all else being equal” is a significant qualifier.

In addition to the ORB poll, the Tribune story examines a recent poll conducted jointly by various media outlets, including ABC, the BBC and USA Today:

A separate poll commissioned by media groups, including ABC, BBC News and USA Today, indicated the number of people who felt life was “going well” had declined to 39 percent from 71 percent in November 2005.

Only 18 percent said they had confidence in U.S. troops, and half said they thought violence against American forces was “acceptable,” according to the media poll of 2,212 Iraqis. The media poll, conducted Feb. 25 to March 5, found sharply different responses from Iraqis along sectarian and ethnic lines.

Most Shiites and Kurds say things have improved in their lives and for the country as a whole, while fewer than 1 in 10 Sunnis felt that way. The Sunnis were favored over other ethnic groups under Hussein.

The ORB poll’s findings differed on the latter question, according to Nadler:

Fifty-three percent of respondents preferred the current regime; 29 percent that of Saddam, and 18 percent neither. Among Kurds, support for the new order ran 84 percent to 12percent; among Shiites, 72 percent to 7 percent. Sunnis surveyed preferred Saddam’s rule, 56 percent to 32 percent.

And the difference between the two polls was even greater on the question of Iraqis’ views of U.S. actions. “By a majority of two to one, Iraqis believe military operations now under way will disarm all militias,” the Times of London reported of the ORB survey. “More than half say security will improve after a withdrawal of multinational forces.”

We’ll keep our eye out to see if any polling experts weigh in on the relative merits of each poll and their methodologies. Mystery Pollster is our usual go-to blog for such analysis. It has noted the ABC/BBC/USA Today survey, but hasn’t yet mentioned ORB’s findings.

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