Major Afghan public opinion poll reveals rising concern
Afghan optimism about the overall direction of the country and confidence in government fell to their lowest point in a decade, while fear for personal safety increased to a record high. Afghans cite deteriorating security, unemployment, and corruption as the main reasons for their pessimism.
The longest-running and broadest nationwide survey of Afghan attitudes and opinions, the annual survey provides insight into the views of Afghans on issues central to the country’s development. Conducted between June 11-28 this year with 9,586 Afghan citizens representing 14 ethnic groups and in 34 provinces, this year’s survey includes new questions on youth, ISIL/ISIS, women in leadership, and mobile phone access.
NEWS FROM AFGHANISTAN
Insight into the views of Afghans on issues central to the country’s development
Optimism has declined since The Asia Foundation conducted its last annual survey in June 2014, immediately following Afghanistan’s presidential runoff election where the national mood was high. The country has seen the formation of the National Unity Government after a contentious election process, a deteriorating economy in the face of declining international aid and foreign military spending, and the full assumption of security responsibilities by Afghan forces amid increasing attacks by armed opposition groups.
“Afghanistan experienced the impact of the three simultaneous security, political, and economic transitions in 2015. Against this intensely challenging backdrop, the 2015 survey reflects Afghans’ understandable concerns, and a frustration that more progress isn’t being made. The results show increased skepticism in the government’s ability to effectively address these challenges. The survey is also a clear signal to the international community and regional neighbors that steadiness, patience, and support are what’s needed as Afghanistan struggles to achieve peace and stability.”
– Abdullah Ahmadzai, The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Afghanistan
A decline in optimism and a growing sense of fear
More than half of all Afghans (57.5%) say the country is moving in the wrong direction. The majority of Afghans (67.4%) also say they are afraid for their personal safety, the highest recorded level since the survey began. Overall optimism has decreased across all regions, and is lowest in the Central/Kabul (27.8%) and North West (30.5%) regions. The survey reveals the growing perception among Afghans that the Afghan National Security Forces need foreign support to operate—82.8% say the Afghan National Army needs foreign support; 80.1% say this about the Afghan National Police; and 70.4% about the Afghan Local Police—all up from 2014.
What Afghans think of ISIS and migration
The 2015 findings include new questions on youth, ISIL/ISIS, women in leadership, and mobile phone access. For the first time, we asked Afghans about ISIS. The group today is a presence in Afghanistan. In fact, ISIS has had a significant impact on Afghan perceptions of their safety—three out of four respondents say they have heard of ISIS and 40% say the group is a threat to the security of their district. Starting in 2011, the survey has asked respondents if they would leave Afghanistan if given the opportunity. This year, 39.9% of Afghans say yes, an increase from 33.8% in 2011, while 57.9% say no. Afghans most likely to say yes reside in the Central/Kabul (47.4%) and West (44.2%) regions; those least likely live in the South West (26.2%).
Afghans are less confident in their public institutions
Public opinion of Afghanistan under the NUG is mixed—the proportion who say the national government is doing a good job has fallen to 57.8%, down from 75.3% in 2014 when election promises of improvements in governance and services contributed to a sense of hope.
Afghans unsatisfied with local services
Long-term survey data since 2004 shows that Afghans have seen progress in the delivery of basic government services. However, 56.3% of Afghans say public services—electricity, roads, drinking water, education, healthcare, and water for irrigation—are the most common problem Afghans face on a local level, and cited as one of the major problems facing the country as a whole. 71.8% of Afghans report the highest level of satisfaction with access to drinking water, a long-term improvement since 2006. Education is absolutely crucial for Afghans—and 67.8% of respondents report satisfaction with the quality of education for children in their area but satisfaction for education has decreased in all regions in 2015 compared to 2014.
“The annual survey provides a picture of a nation undergoing extraordinary change, and the concerns, hopes, and experiences that accompany such change. Year after year, the survey reveals that the delivery of basic public services—health, education, roads, drinking water, sanitation—are crucial to people’s perceptions of their government’s capability, and are an antidote to extremism, instability, and vulnerability.”
– David D. Arnold, President, The Asia Foundation
2015 saw milestones, opportunities, and disappointments for Afghan women
On the positive side, 2015 saw wins for women in Afghan politics: the cabinet now includes four female ministers and the government appointed two new female provincial governors. Nearly all Afghans (93.6%) support women’s equal access to education in Islamic madrasas, and a high proportion support equal opportunities at the primary school (84.5%), high school (82.8%) level, and at the university level (73.8%). However, the Farkhunda case and the recent insurgent attacks against educated and politically active women in Kunduz illustrate the serious challenges Afghan women face. As in previous years, Afghans list education and illiteracy and unemployment/lack of job opportunities as the two largest problems facing women.
Youth cite unemployment and illiteracy as biggest challenges
Nearly half of Afghanistan’s population is under age 18, one of the largest youth bulges in the world. As foreign aid declines, Afghans say unemployment (71.4%) and illiteracy (26.5%) are the two biggest problems facing their youth.
Bright spot in media and access to information
A source of optimism is Afghanistan’s expanding media sector and increasing availability of sources of information from around the world, which continues to shape public opinion. Media (66.6%) remains the most trusted institution alongside religious leaders (64.3%), and ahead of government institutions and NGOs. 2015 saw a rise in Afghan television ownership to 62.1%, a number that has almost doubled in the last eight years.