The Asia Foundation Releases 2018 Survey of the Afghan People
Despite security and economic concerns, annual poll of 15,012 reveals steady national mood and optimism around elections
Kabul, December 4, 2018 — According to a new survey released today by The Asia Foundation, the number of Afghans who say the country is moving in the right direction has steadied. The data reveals an incremental rise in Afghans’ confidence in democracy, elections, government institutions, and services. However, fears about insecurity and the worsening economy, coupled with the long delay in the recent parliamentary elections, continues to influence Afghan citizens’ views on the future of the country. Comprehensive data from the Afghanistan in 2018: A Survey of the Afghan People is based on face-to-face interviews with a national sample of 15,012 Afghan citizens representing all major and most minor ethnic groups in 34 provinces.
The longest-running barometer of Afghan opinion, the Survey of the Afghan People is a map of social change over time, presenting a clear picture of the gains and gaps that Afghans perceive in a rapidly transforming nation. The Survey, now on its fourteenth edition, has gathered the views of more than 112,000 Afghans since 2004 on security, elections, governance, the economy, essential services, corruption, youth issues, reconciliation with the Taliban, access to media, migration, the role of women, and political participation.
After four years in power, the National Unity Government (NUG) continues to face persistent challenges. Parliamentary elections were held in October 2018 across most of the country, after a three-year delay due to disputes over electoral reforms and instability. Insecurity has been a main concern for Afghans in every election since 2001 and this year was no exception, particularly given the deadly attacks on voter-registration centers across the country just before the Survey fieldwork was conducted.
“This year’s Survey reveals a mix of hope and fear as Afghans look towards their future,” said Abdullah Ahmadzai, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Afghanistan. “While the long delay in parliamentary elections, ongoing violence, and economic and employment challenges continue to color citizens’ views, the empirical evidence in 2018 reveals an incremental rise in Afghans’ confidence in democracy, elections, government institutions, and services. Clearly, even in the face of often seemingly imperceptible progress, Afghans are eager for a better future.”
“Beyond the lens of war, the country’s deep political divisions, structural governance challenges, and economic insecurity is impeding development progress and the prospect of durable peace,” said David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation. “Against this backdrop, the importance of comprehensive, reliable data cannot be overstated. Through this annual research project, we are committed to closing data gaps to help advance informed policymaking and improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan.”
National optimism has stabilized and likely influenced positively by this year’s elections
The Survey has shown over time that public optimism increases significantly in any election year. In 2018, optimism about Afghanistan’s direction has remained unchanged (33%) despite the nation’s challenges to maintain security against the Taliban insurgency and the growing presence of ISIS/Daesh. Afghans cite improvements in security (52%), rebuilding (48%), governance (29%), rights for women (12%), and the economy (11%) as the reasons for optimism. The number who say the country is moving in the wrong direction is the same as last year (61%). Insecurity is the most frequently cited reason for pessimism, cited slightly more often this year than last (73% vs. 70%), followed by concern about the economy (38%), which includes the 24% of respondents who explicitly refer to unemployment as a reason for their pessimism.
Attitudes towards elections and democracy remain favorable
Survey interviews were conducted in July 2018 and 80% of respondents say they were aware of the upcoming parliamentary elections. This is consistent with 2009 (82%), when the same question was asked regarding that year’s presidential election. Over half of respondents (52%) said they believe that the next election would be free and fair. Thinking the next election will be free and fair is positively correlated with national optimism. Respondents who say the next elections would be free and fair are significantly more likely to think the country is moving in the right direction than those who believe the opposite (42% vs. 24%). Rural respondents (71%) are more likely to say they plan to vote than urban (65%). Afghans’ satisfaction with democracy has increased from 57% in 2017 to 61% this year.
Rise in fear while practicing civil liberties
Fear while voting has increased significantly, from 52% last year to 62% in 2018, the highest level of fear yet recorded. Fear while voting is negatively correlated with Afghans’ decision to vote. A majority of Afghans (73%) report fear while participating in a peaceful demonstration, a significant increase, by 13 percentage points, since 2006, when the question was first asked. Regionally, 79% of respondents in the North West identify the Taliban as the biggest threat to local security, while respondents in the East (57%) see Daesh/ISIS as the biggest threat to local security. Afghans continue to lose sympathy for armed opposition groups with 82% indicating that they have “no sympathy” for the Taliban.
Deep concerns about the economy and food insecurity contribute to migration
Among the 61% of Afghans who think the country is moving in the wrong direction, a majority express concerns about such things as: unemployment (24%), a bad economy (12%), and high prices (4%). When asked about the biggest problems facing youth, more than three-fourths of all respondents (75%) cite lack of employment opportunities and 15% cite economic concerns. As a direct result of the drought, affecting two-thirds of the country and damaging essential crops including the wheat harvest, an estimated two million additional Afghans will be affected by food insecurity. Unemployment (52%) and bad economy (18%), along with insecurity, are top reasons why Afghans are willing to migrate.
Strong support for women’s education, but views on political participation and work are mixed
Afghan women’s lives have improved significantly since the Taliban were ousted. Most Afghans (70%) agree women should be allowed to work outside the home and the majority (84%) say women should have the same opportunities as men in education. Almost half of respondents (46%) cite illiteracy and lack of educational opportunities as the biggest problem facing Afghan women in 2018, up from 43% last year. The level of support for the cultural practices of baad and baddal continues to decline and support for women in leadership positions – apart from that of the President – has increased marginally.
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