Iraqis Happier, More Optimistic

A new poll shows that Iraqis are decidedly happier and more optimistic than they were just a year ago but that they’re still unhappy with the United States invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime and put their lives into a state of chaos.

Iraqis are more upbeat about their future and less concerned about violence and insecurity, according to a poll released Monday. The survey conducted by broadcasters ABC, BBC and NHK shows that 21 percent of Iraqis feel their life is very good compared with 13 percent in March 2008. They also feel safer — 46 percent of respondents said they believe the security in their neighborhoods is very good compared with only 20 percent last year, according to the survey.

A statement by ABC said the results “represent a stunning reversal of the spiral of despair caused by Iraq’s sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.”

The Kurdish community was the most optimistic — 32 percent said they thought their lives were very good, while 25 percent of respondents from the Shia community and 8 percent of Sunni respondents felt the same way.

Some perspective is in order:

The results show that while Iraqis are growing more optimistic, they are still more cautious than they were in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. The poll found that 56 percent of people believe their lives will be better a year from now, while 17 percent believe it will be worse. In 2004, 71 percent believed their lives would improve over the year, and only 6 percent thought it would get worse.

Iraqis are also still unhappy with the way the U.S. and coalition forces have carried out their responsibilities in Iraq, with 69 percent saying they have done quite a bad job or a very bad job — similar to the 70 percent last year. Only 30 percent thought they had done quite a good job or a very good job, from 29 percent last year. Looking ahead, 35 percent of those polled thought President Barack Obama’s government would make things better for Iraq, and 38 percent thought it would not make much of a difference.

The Iraqis surveyed said they are still unhappy with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Just over half — 56 percent — think the invasion was somewhat or absolutely wrong, up from 50 percent last year.

Six years and counting of war is a heavy price to pay, so it’s not surprising that those who paid the bulk of it believe it wasn’t worth it.  Further, even those Iraqis who genuinely believe their lives are better than they would be if Saddam and his sons were still in power and believe the war will greatly improve their children’s futures might well nonetheless resent the foreign occupiers who made it possible.

If present trends continue, that may change.  But things will have to be markedly better than they were under Saddam for that to happen.  Not only will Iraqis naturally factor in the incredibly high price they’ve paid for whatever gains they achieve, they’ll weigh the benefits against what was promised to them in 2003.  And we promised a lot.

UPDATE: See here for analysis by ABC News’ Gary Langer.  Click here for PDF of analysis with charts and full questionnaire.  Click here for charts on the results.

Some commenters are dubious of the question wording.  Here are the questions asked, many which have been kept the same in numerous polls conducted going back to February 2004.  There are 50 questions, many in multiple choice format, and copying them all from PDF is more trouble than it’s worth.  I’ve place a long sampling below the fold, though, which should dispel any notion that these are intentionally leading questions designed to elicit an ideological response.

1. Overall, how would you say things are going in your life these days – very good, quite good, quite bad, or very bad?

2. What is your expectation for how things overall in your life will be in a year from now – will things be much better, somewhat worse or much worse?

3. What is the single biggest problem you are facing in your life these days?

4. Do you think your children will have a better life than you, worse, or about the same?

5. 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?

6. What is your expectation for how things will be for Iraq as a country overall a year from now? Will they be much better, somewhat better, about the
same, somewhat worse or much worse?

7. Not personally, but in terms of Iraq, what in your opinion is the single biggest problem facing Iraq as a whole?  [Open ended]

8. From today’s perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong or absolutely wrong that U.S.-led coalition
forces invaded Iraq in spring 2003?

9. I would like to ask you about today’s conditions in the village/neighborhood where you live. Would you rate the following as very good, quite good, quite
bad or very bad?

    a. The security situation
    b. The availability of jobs
    c. The supply of electricity
    d. The availability of clean water
    e. The availability of medical care
    f. Local schools
    g. Local government
    h. The availability of basic things you need for your household
    j. Your family’s economic situation
    k. The availability of fuel for cooking or driving
    l. Your freedom of movement — the ability to go where you wish safely
    m. Your freedom to live where you wish without persecution

10. For each group I name, please tell me how much that group is doing to
provide services in your community — a great deal, some, a little or nothing at

    a. The national government
    b. The provincial government
    c. Any of the groups known as Awakening Councils, Sons of Iraq or Concerned Local Citizens
    d. Militia groups that are not aligned with the government
    e. Your mosque or huisainiya or other religious-based associations
    f. Foreign aid organizations
    g. Joint security stations

11. In the past six months, has [INSERT] become better, become worse, or stayed
about the same?

    a. The security situation in this neighborhood/village
    b. Your family’s economic situation
    c. The availability of jobs

12. What about the country as a whole – in the past six months, has the security situation in Iraq become better, become worse, or stayed about the

13. (IF BETTER) How confident are you that this improved security will continue in the future?

14. Which of the following structures do you believe Iraq should have in the future: one unified Iraq with central government in Baghdad, a group of
regional states with their own regional governments and a federal government in Baghdad, or a country divided into separate independent states?

15. There can be differences between the way 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 — strong leader, a government headed by one man for life; Islamic state, where politicians rule according to religious principles; or democracy, a government with a chance for the leader to be replaced from time to time?

16. I am going to name a number of organizations. For each one, please tell me if you have a great deal of confidence, quite a lot of confidence, not very
much confidence, or none at all.

    a. The Iraqi Army
    b. The police
    c. U.S. occupation forces
    d. Local leaders in your community
    e. National government of Iraq
    f. The local militia in this area
    h. Awakening Councils
    i. Judges and the court system

17. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Nouri Kamel al-Maliki is handling his job as prime minister?

Photo by Flickr user Chuck Holton, used under Creative Commons license.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, Policing, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    So James, you think maybe the questions asked might be suspect in getting the results questioner looked for? I would have asked things like “are you happier now that your women are not subject to rape by Saddam’s thugs?” Or how about “are you relieved you will not be thrown from a wall for voicing political opinions adverse to the current administration?” Of course they are upset with being invaded. National pride. They were not capable of throwing off the yoke Saddam had placed on them. Who would be proud to have to have an outside entity do that for them? That reporter who assaulted President Bush with throwing his shoes at him. Wonder what the results would have been had he done that to Saddam? Freedom is not free James, it always costs blood and treasure. Name another nation that spends theirs to help others?

  2. James Joyner says:

    I would have asked things like “are you happier now that your women are not subject to rape by Saddam’s thugs?” Or how about “are you relieved you will not be thrown from a wall for voicing political opinions adverse to the current administration?”

    Which likely explains why no one is hiring you to conduct public opinion surveys.

  3. Wayne says:

    James, ZRIII is just pointing out what already should be widely known and that is Opinion polls depend a great deal on the questions ask and how they are ask. I might have missed it but I didn’t see a link anywhere on the raw data or actual questions ask. Polls are interesting to a point but I have learned to take them with a great deal of salt.

    ZRIII can come back and say of course no one would hire him as a pollster, he doesn’t lean left enough.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    What you ask James if you were so employed? Stuff like “are you happy with foreign Christian invaders in your country?” Why don’t you ask Americans who voted for ears Obama if they are still happy with their choice? Been to a tea party recently? Seems many have.

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Thanks Wayne. I am beginning to think PhD stands for Probably has Democrat tendencies. This place is starting to reflect leftist leanings a bit more and more yearly. Perhaps Anjin will join the writing staff.

  6. Bithead says:

    Zels asks a reasonable question, James.

  7. In WWII the US was faced with two fanatical opponents who had their people firmly behind them, little history of democracy and had world views that were not conducive to them being part of a peaceful world community. After WWII, Japan and Germany were both rebuilt into strong, functioning democracies.

    I would argue that one of the major factors in producing the change came about not by planning but by unintended consequences. The bombing of Germany and Japan and the horrendous losses at home and on the battlefield simply wore out the populace, so that when the war ended, they were ready for any path that would make the pain go away. If they did them, I suspect that you could find polls from the late 40’s/early 50’s that would mirror these.

  8. anjin-san says:

    This place is starting to reflect leftist leanings a bit more and more yearly. Perhaps Anjin will join the writing staff.

    I am curious as to how you define “leftist”. After all, I have expressed open scorn for Reid and Pelosi, as well as great admiration for GOP leaders such as Chuck Hegel and Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower. I put in long hours working for a major corporation & pay lots of taxes. Does not sound all that leftist to me.

    I realize that your political ideology as handed down by Party Leader Limbaugh instructs you that pretty much anyone who disagrees with you is some sort of commie, but I urge you to, you know, turn your brain back on.