Critical analysis of ABC News polls in Afghanistan


There has been a lot of debate surrounding the results of ABC News’s recent poll in Afghanistan – http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenumbers/2010/01/polling-in-afghanistan-an-antidote-to-anecdote.html.

I recently interviewed Dr Antonio Giustozzi, editor of Decoding the New Taliban. Insights from the Afghan Field. Thepublished interview with Giustozzi – who has visited Afghanistan over 15 times since 2001 – can be read here http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/84998.
 
Below is his verbatim answer to my question about the results and accuracy of ABC News’s 2009 poll inAfghanistan.
 
“The previous survey BBC/ABC survey [February 2007/8] produced details about the sampling they did. This is a big problem in Afghanistan. The sampling is very, very biased. It is balanced in terms of men and women – that’s easy to determine. But in terms of the composition of the people polled there are very few unemployed people, whereas even the Government says unemployment is 40 percent. In the poll 7 percent were unemployment. In the poll 5 percent were police and army, whereas in Afghanistan the actual percentage of the population in the army and police is 0.2 percent. 14 percent were managers and directors. No Mullahs in the poll. As I said the Mullahs are a big, important part of society. Not many farmers – 20 percent. They used an Afghan polling company using Afghans. They go around the cities and the main provincial centres, and even if they did a village it would be next to a city. There is a big village that is next to a city or highway, where people have access to school and information, and a village up in the mountains. That is where the Taliban are. There is this divide between urban and rural Afghanistan. I think it is quite obvious when you look at the profession and ethnicity – too many Tajiks, too few Pashtuns – of people interviewed it is clear there is bias. In short, the 9 percent is an underestimate. I am convinced that they didn’t go to the rural areas of Zabul and Kandahar because nobody can go there and start asking questions without risking their lives. They would be executed as a spy immediately. The military can’t people there, so I don’t think the opinion poll company can do it.
 
It is not totally useless. You can use the sampling. If it had been balanced, maybe the Taliban would get 15 percent support. They are still a minority, but that is 15 percent nationwide. In the south it is probably 30 or 40 percent support for the Taliban. 

The other thing is that many people in Afghanistan don’t know what polling is. So if you do it in areas under Government control, and ask ‘do you support the Taliban?’ and there is a police station on the corner and informers on every street, what are you going to say? There is a war on – people get arrested and tortured. There will certainly be a lot of people who are reluctant to admit any sympathy for the Taliban. I think it is underestimated, although it is difficult to say how much. Also, support is not evenly spread around the country. It will be low in Kabul and the north, but much higher in the south. Other companies, which don’t publicly release their polls, but who do private polls for ISAF or embassies, use different methodologies, mixing quantitative and qualitative polling, using focus groups – they get completely different figures. Much higher for the Taliban and much lower for the Government. In ISAF polls in early 2009 support for Karzai was 4 percent. They don’t release them, because of course what they show is a completely different picture. I had the opportunity to go through them.”

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