Iraq thinks its politicians and parties are failing them according to new opinion poll
By Joel Wing*
In early June 2011, the Greenberg Quinland Rosner Research company in conjunction with the National Democratic Institute released their latest public opinion poll of Iraqis. The survey was conducted from February to March, and consisted of 2,400 in-person interviews of people 18 years or older. 1,436 of them were weighted to reflect the populations of each region. They were asked eleven questions total, and there was +/- 2.0% margin of error. This poll was a follow up to a much larger one held in November 2010. The new survey showed that Iraqis are losing confidence in the direction the country is going in and in their leaders. Iraq parliament, Parlamani Iraq
The first question asked was whether the participants felt that Iraq was going in the right or wrong direction. 49% said that Iraq was heading in the wrong direction, while 42% said that it was doing fine. That was a slight reversal from November when 45% thought the country was going in the right direction, and 44% thought it was going the wrong way. That change was due to a reversal in mood in southern Iraq. There, 37% said that Iraq was on the right track, and 52% said the opposite. In November, 57% said it was going in the right direction. Baghdad and northern Iraq had the most positive views with 54% and 66% respectively stating that the nation was doing good. Western Iraq was the opposite with 67% saying that things were going wrong. Not only that, but those that felt strongly that Iraq was on the wrong track in that part of the country went from 17% in November to 43% in March. The situation in the country has slightly changed from the last poll. Attacks have inched up, and the political parties are still deadlocked over forming the government. Those could be the reasons why respondents turned slightly more pessimistic in the latest survey.
When broken down by ethnosectarian identity, Sunnis had overwhelmingly negative views about the country, 71% saying that Iraq was doing badly, while Kurds were the most positive, 67% said the nation was on the right track. Turkmen were like Sunnis with 53% telling surveyors that Iraq was going down the wrong path. Shiites were almost evenly divided with 43% telling the company that Iraq was doing fine, and 48% saying the opposite. The poll showed that Sunnis still felt the most marginalized in the country. The Kurds are relatively safe and prosperous by Iraqi standards in their own region, which is why they had positive views. Finally, the Shiites were split, because despite being the majority, many of them live in the poorest parts of the country.
Young people and the poor were the most pessimistic, while the elderly and wealthy were evenly split. 49% of young women said that Iraq was on the wrong track, and 54% of young men stated the same thing. That compared to 43% of older women and 45% of older men who had positive views. In the survey, people under 35 were designated as young. In terms of class, 60% of the poor, and 52% of the middle class claimed that the country was on the wrong path. 46% of the rich said Iraq was doing fine. The young probably have higher aspirations of the new Iraq, and the poor are obviously suffering, which is why those two appear to be disappointed.
The next question was what issue had improved the most. Security and education were at the top, while corruption and the electrical supply were at the bottom. 62% felt that security was better, up 4% from November. 61% also thought education was improving. Conversely, only 38% said that the power was doing better, and 32% said that of corruption. Elements of the economy were seen to be positive, with 52% saying jobs and 50% stating the cost of living had gotten better. When asked about the economy specifically, 56% thought it was weak, however 38% believed their personal finances were strong. Attacks continue in Iraq, but the civil war is over. Violence has become more impersonal for many Iraqis, and they are able to go out more, which is why the improvement in security is perceived to be the greatest achievement. More and more children are also attending schools. Despite having an oil dependent economy during a period when the industry is booming, little of this wealth is seen to have trickled down however. That’s probably why the economy was at the bottom in the survey. Corruption is also endemic, and is reported on almost every day in the media, yet there is no perceived change in the situation.
As a follow up question, participants were asked what two issues were the most important for the government to address. Jobs were number one at 63%, followed by services at 47%. Security was the third most important in November at 36%, but it dropped 20% to fourth by March. Education, 8%, sectarianism, 6%, and housing 1% were considered the least pressing. In western Iraq, 73%, and southern Iraq, 65%, jobs were the most important, while services were even more important to the south at 76%. Iraq suffers from high unemployment and even higher underemployment, and services like electricity have never met demand. With security greatly improved, these quality of life issues have now come to the fore in the public’s mind.
Iraqis from all regions felt that democracy was the best form of government for the country, but were a little divided over whether it really was one or not. 71% said that democracy would make life better, and only 16% thought it would make it worse. Baghdad, 58%, western Iraq, 67%, northern Iraq, 76%, and southern Iraq, 80%, all felt the same. On whether Iraq was a real democracy, the responses were much closer with 42% saying yes, and 39% saying no. Baghdad, 40%, and western Iraq, 51%, said no, while northern Iraq, 45%, and southern Iraq, 56%, said yes. After living for decades under a dictatorship, it’s no surprise that people have a positive view of democracy. Whether it’s working appears to be much more mixed with the country almost evenly split on the matter.
One problem with Iraq’s democracy is its political parties, not one of which had a 50% approval rating. 43% had a warm or favorable opinion of Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, 37% said that about the Sadr Trend, 32% felt that way about Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Dialogue Front, followed by 31% for the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), 30% for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, 26% for the Iraqi Islamic Party, 14% for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi’s Renewal List, 14% for President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and 13% for the Fadhila Party and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. All the Arab parties, except for Dawa, improved their standing from November 2010, while the Kurdish parties both went down. Only Allawi’s Iraqi National List had a more favorable rating, 43%, than negative, 40%. The Dawa for example had a 30% favorable opinion, and 52% unfavorable, and two-thirds had bad views of the Kurdish parties.
Those feelings carried over to people’s views of individual politicians. Iyad Allawi, 48%, and Moqtada al-Sadr, 45% finished at the top of the poll, and were the only two with more favorable than unfavorable responses. They were followed by Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi, 39%, Premier Maliki, 35%, SIIC head Ammar al-Hakim, 35%, Vice President Hashemi, 33%, head of the National Coalition Ibrahim al-Jaafari, 30%, Deputy Premier Mutlaq, 29%, President Talabani, 17%, and Kurdish President Barzani, 16%. All of those had more negative than positive opinions. One base of support for Sadr and Allawi appeared to be the lower-middle class and poor, 52% of which had a favorable opinion of Sadr, and 45% had one of Allawi. After that, all the other politicians had a more unfavorable view than positive. The same thing was expressed amongst young men with 54% supporting Sadr and 48% supporting Allawi. In comparison, 44% of the lower class and 48% of young men had an unfavorable opinion of Maliki. Also, while Kurdish leaders Talabani and Barzani were seen negatively in the country in general, they still held strong support in Kurdistan with 66% having a good view of Talabani and 62% saying that about Barzani. This was despite large protests that occurred in Sulaymaniya that started in February against the Kurdish regional government.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was right in the middle of the pack. The poll showed that he had his strongest support in Baghdad and the South, but that his numbers were slipping in the latter. Overall, 35% said they felt positive about Maliki, while 45% were cool to him. In Baghdad the premier had a 50% approval rating, and 42% in the south, although that dropped 23% from November. In Western Iraq only 15% had a favorable view of him, and in the North 30% did, but that was a 17% increase from the last survey. When asked directly about his performance 39% said they approved, and 54% said the opposite. Again, 52% in Baghdad and 47% in the south said they thought Maliki was doing well, while in the West, 24%, and north, 27%, that opinion was not shared. Oddly enough the prime minister’s approval rating went up 22% in the South, which contradicted the first question about him personally. Maliki has strenuously held onto power, and outmaneuvered his main rival Iyad Allawi after the 2010 elections. He has not improved the government’s performance however, which could account for the negative views people have of him. The opposing views of Maliki himself on the one hand, and his job on the other in the south is an oddity.
On the local level the provincial councils were seen negatively, while there was still strong support for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). When asked about the job performance of the councils, 34% approved, down 13% from November, while 62% disapproved, up 15%. Western Iraq had the most favorable opinion with 40% approving, and 59% disapproving. Baghdad was in the middle with 38% approving, and 58% disapproving, while the South had the lowest rating at 27% approving and 67% disapproving. In Kurdistan 69% approved and 30% disapproved. That was down from November when the KRG had an 85% favorability rating. The south is the poorest part of the country. The provincial councils have been in power since 2009, but have not been able to improve services or the quality of life, which accounts for their poor showing in the poll. Western Iraq also has its problems, but perhaps the closer connection between the tribes and political parties there has kept some of the discontent in check. Baghdad contains all of the contradictions in the country with some of the poorest and richest districts of the country. It also has the most daily attacks and casualties, and a huge internally displaced population. Kurdistan on the other hand, is the most stable part of the nation, and the ruling parties have a vast array of tribal ties and a large patronage system to maintain support.
The main thing to take away from this new poll is that Iraqis felt that their country was heading in the wrong direction. Sunnis, the poor, and the young were the most pessimistic about the future. Based upon the questions asked, Iraq’s political class was the main culprit behind the negative views. All of the major parties and leaders, with the exception of Allawi and Sadr, were seen badly. Politicians are increasingly thought to be more involved with their own personal squabbles than running the country. In the sixteen months since parliamentary elections, very little has been accomplished as Maliki and Allawi are still arguing over finishing off the cabinet. The provincial councils have been in power even longer, and people’s opinions of them are just as negative with the exception of the Kurdish region. The question is the next time a survey is conducted, will the negative views increase even more or will they remain relatively stable? If the numbers continue to decline it will show that the public has lost even more faith in the government to improve its lot. The sad thing is that the elite do not show any concern for this. In Iraq, the parties insist upon national unity governments where everyone gets a seat at the table instead of being punished for their poor performance.