2019 Survey of the Afghan People Reveals Concerns on Peace Deal
Asia Foundation perception poll of 17,812 Afghans includes new questions on peace, elections, and reconciliation
Kabul, December 3, 2019 — According to a new survey released today by The Asia Foundation in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Washington DC, Afghans report a slight uptick in optimism, with 36.1% of respondents saying the country is going in the right direction in 2019, up from 32.8% in 2018. Of Afghans who say they are optimistic, 26.3% point to “peace/end of war,” a significant increase from 16.4% last year. At the same time, insecurity and economic uncertainty continue to be a concern for most Afghans; 84.4% say they would vote for a president who knows how to improve the economy, while 65.2% say they would vote for a president who accepts a peace agreement with the Taliban. Learn more at Afghanistan in 2019: A Survey of the Afghan People, an annual survey based on face-to-face interviews with a national sample of 17,812 Afghan citizens across all 34 provinces.
Peace talks with the Taliban are at the center of public attention. Given the importance of peace, elections, and reconciliation, new Survey questions in 2019 ask Afghans what they might be willing to sacrifice to reach a peace deal, including the constitution, democratic elections, freedom of speech, and the presence of foreign military forces.
“Increased optimism around the peace talks along with persistent fears about insecurity and the economy continue to influence Afghan views,” said Abdullah Ahmadzai, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Afghanistan. “Following the collapse of the talks and election delays (which took place after this year’s Survey fieldwork), prospects for a sustainable political settlement are unclear. More than ever, empirical data is a crucial resource for the future and development of Afghanistan.”
National mood influenced by this year’s peace talks
The Survey has shown over time that public optimism increases in any election year. In 2019, 36.1% of respondents say the country is going in the right direction, up slightly from 32.8% in 2018. Afghans who say the country is moving in the right direction cite improved security at 55.7% (up from 51.8% in 2018), and reconstruction/rebuilding/infrastructure at 48.6% (close to last year’s 47.9%). Aggregated among those who cite improved security (55.7%) are those who specifically say “peace/end of the war” (26.3%), a significant increase from 16.4% in 2018. At the same time, 58.2% of Afghans surveyed indicate it is moving the wrong direction, down slightly from 61.3% in 2018. Reasons for pessimism include insecurity/crime (74.7%), the economy (41.5%), and the state of governance (31.1%).
High awareness of elections with TV, radio, internet access
During fieldwork for the 2019 Survey, a majority of Afghans (80.9%) were aware of the upcoming presidential elections; more than half (58.6%) say that they voted in the parliamentary election. Respondents who did not vote cite reasons of insecurity (30.2%), fraud (20.1%), “it’s not beneficial” (18.7%), and injustice (16.0%). Awareness is higher among men (85.7%) than women (76.1%) and more men (66.9%) say they voted than did women (50.3%). Television is the main source of election information (55.5%), with radio a distant second (22.9%). In 2019, 14.4% of Afghans use the internet as their main source of news and information.
Concerns over risking gains for Taliban peace deal
On peace talks, we ask Afghans if they are aware of efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban, whether they support or oppose such efforts, and whether they feel sufficiently represented in the talks. The majority of Afghans say they would not vote for a president who accepted a peace agreement with the Taliban that jeopardized women’s education (65.6%), women’s ability to work outside the home (65.0%), or if the central government lost territory (65.8%).
Growing support for women’s education
Peace discussions hit a nerve for many Afghans envisioning a retreat to the Taliban era’s rules. Support for women’s educational opportunities and approval for women’s education has continued to climb this year, to 86.6%, up from 84.0% in 2018. A record high number of Afghans support women working outside the home, with 76.0% saying they agree, up from 70.3% in 2018. Afghans cite lack of educational opportunities as the biggest problem facing women (43.2%), followed by lack of rights (34.1%), lack of employment opportunities (24.1%), and violence (18.1%).
Attitudes on influencing local government decisions and support for democracy
The number of Afghans who believe that they can have influence over their local governance is the second-highest figure in Survey history, exceeded only by 55.9% in 2014, and it continues the trend of year-on-year increases since 2016. Satisfaction with democracy has increased to 65.1% (a steady increase from 57.2% in 2015). Longitudinal trends identified in the Survey suggest that a person’s socioeconomic status correlates with their support for democracy. Respondents who report satisfaction with democracy are more likely to say their household financial situation has improved (76.1%) than those who say their financial situation has gotten worse (55.2%).
“Given Afghanistan’s political divisions, structural governance challenges, and economic insecurity, the importance of reliable data on the views of Afghan citizens cannot be overstated,” said David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation. “Our goal is to provide timely data and analysis in support of Afghan government and citizens’ efforts to build a stable, prosperous society.”