Politics & Policy

Have You Read This Good News On Iraq?

A new poll's "surprising" results.

How many times have supporters of the war in Iraq complained that there is little reporting on good news from Iraq? And that when there is such news, it receives less-prominent coverage than reports of car bombings and sectarian mayhem?

Sometimes the criticism has little merit; after all, there are lots of car bombings and sectarian mayhem, and they are news. But the where’s-the-good-news question seems particularly timely this week after the publication of a new poll which found widespread optimism among Iraqis, both about their personal situations and the future of the country. Beyond the news organizations that sponsored the poll–it was done by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, the Japanese television network NHK, and the German magazine Der Spiegel–the survey’s results received little coverage. And even the poll’s sponsors seemed surprised and baffled that so many Iraqis could express satisfaction amid a war that is so widely criticized both here in the United States and abroad.

In short, the poll found that millions of Iraqis say their lives are better than they were last year, better than they were before the United States invasion, and will likely be better a year from now than today.

The pollsters, whose work is available here, began by asking, “Overall, how would you say things are going in your life these days–very good, quite good, quite bad, or very bad?” Seventy-one percent of those polled said very good or quite good–up from 55 percent in a poll taken in June, 2004. Twenty-nine percent said their lives are quite bad or very bad–down from 45 percent in 2004.

The pollsters also asked about individual aspects of the respondents’ lives. Sixty-one percent reported that the security situation is very good or quite good in the area where they live. Sixty-six percent rated their protection from crime as very good or quite good. Seventy-four percent said local schools are very good or quite good. Seventy percent said their family’s economic situation is very good or quite good. Seventy-eight percent rated their freedom of speech as very good or quite good.

Next, the pollsters asked, “What is your expectation for how things overall in your life will be in a year from now–will they be much better, somewhat better, about the same, somewhat worse, or much worse?” Sixty-found percent said much or somewhat better, 14 percent said about the same, and just ten percent said somewhat or much worse.

The pollsters found a somewhat different picture when they asked, “Now, thinking about how things are going, not for you personally, but for Iraq as a whole, how would you say things are going in our country overall these days? Are they very good, quite good, quite bad, or very bad?” Forty-four percent said very or quite good, while 52 percent said very or quite bad. The pollsters also found what ABC called “vast differences” in the ways Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds viewed things. Still, the results revealed resoundingly positive feelings on the part of majorities of Iraqis on those issues about which they had the most knowledge–that is, their own lives.

The poll respondents also expressed confidence in a number of national institutions. Sixty-seven percent said they have a great deal or a lot of confidence in the new Iraqi army. And sixty-eight percent said they have a great deal or a lot of confidence in the police. Those numbers rank alongside confidence in the country’s religious leaders, which is at 67 percent.

The poll also found that a majority of Iraqis believe their country should be governed by a democratic system. The pollsters asked, “There can be differences between the way the government is set up in a country, called the political system. From the three options I am going to read to you, which one do you think would be best for Iraq now?” The choices were, “Strong leader: a government headed by one man for life,” “Islamic state: where politicians rule according to religious principles,” and “Democracy: a government with a chance for the leaders to be replaced from time to time.” Twenty-six percent chose a strong leader. Fourteen percent chose an Islamic state. And 57 percent chose democracy. And when the pollsters asked which system would be best for Iraq five years from now, 64 percent said democracy. Twelve percent chose an Islamic state.

The pollsters found that Iraqis, despite their general satisfaction with the progress being made, didn’t much like having a foreign occupying army in their country. No surprise there. But the survey found that Iraqis had a mixed–not uniformly negative–view of the U.S. invasion. “From today’s perspective and all things considered,” the pollsters asked, “was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong, or absolutely wrong that U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in Spring 2003?”

Nineteen percent said the invasion was absolutely right, and 28 percent said it was somewhat right–for a net positive result of 47 percent. Seventeen percent said the invasion was somewhat wrong, and 33 percent said it was absolutely wrong–for a net negative result of 50 percent. That even split would probably surprise those who have read coverage suggesting that Iraqis overwhelmingly believe the invasion was a bad thing.

Finally, the poll found widespread progress and satisfaction on the economic front. In a 2004 poll, the average monthly income of the respondents was $164. Now, it’s $263–a 63 percent increase. In 2004, six percent of Iraqis reported having a cell phone; now it’s 62 percent. In 2004, 43 percent had a car; now it’s 55 percent. In 2004, 44 percent had an air conditioner; now it’s 58 percent. In 2003 (in another poll), 32 percent had a satellite dish; now it’s 86 percent.

Taken together, that is a lot of good news–on security, politics, and the economy. So much so that the sponsors of the poll could hardly believe their findings. “Surprising levels of optimism prevail in Iraq,” reported ABC on the network’s website. Iraqis are “surprisingly upbeat,” wrote Time. For its part, the BBC chose to downplay the poll’s most newsworthy aspects, beginning one report, “An opinion poll commissioned by the BBC, ABC News and other international media organizations suggests that security is a major concern in the lives of most Iraqis, two and a half years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein–although it also reveals a high level of optimism about the future.”

Other news organizations were less surprised then dismissive; to say the poll hasn’t received much attention beyond the organizations that sponsored it would be an understatement. On Tuesday, the Washington Post mentioned it in the 11th paragraph of a story on page A-19 (a report headlined “Bush Estimates Iraqi Death Toll in War at 30,000.) The New York Times hasn’t mentioned it at all. Still, for those willing to look around, the poll is readily available evidence that there is good news to be found in Iraq–just like the war’s supporters said.

Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President–and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

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