On Scarborough last night I was asked repeatedly about a new poll by a British polling company, Opinion Research Business, that showed "an unexpected level of optimism" among the 5,019 Iraqis interviewed. It sounded even more preposterous than the usual polling results, and was contradicted by multiple other polls. So I sent an email to my good friend and HuffPost blogger Simon Jenkins, who had been the editor of the Evening Standard and The Times of London, and who I assumed would know something about the polling firm. Here is his response:
These polls are meaningless, done only because polling organizations have squeezed large sums out of the media. I call them Halliburton polls. The assumption, common in Britain and America, that a Baghdad street is like Fifth Avenue or Bond Street goes straight to the heart of the west's misunderstanding of Iraq. Iraqis are not used to being asked political questions by strangers in the street. Any answer risks a bullet. It is plain stupid. The polls are utterly unreliable (whether or not we support their outcome). The methodology is shocking, since there is no demographic control group to balance the 5,019 respondents or give a reliable trend line.
The translations are unreliable and the words they use convey different meanings. In addition, Iraqis are delightfully optimistic about themselves and about times always getting better. They are charming in this respect. Their response to questions about foreign troops or their personal circumstances will be determined by what happened a few hours or days before. Perhaps they are less interested in democracy, more in a strong leader, less safe and more keen on troops out than three years ago, but I do not know. While I could generalize about the collapse in optimism after four years of occupation, I would not dream of relating it to a trend.
The only good news out of Baghdad is that Petraeus has discovered that if you flood a neighborhood with heavily armed troops, stay there, give people money and protect them from the Iraqi police and army murder squads you will be very popular: as long as you stay. It might even have been a policy worth trying four years ago. But now he will leave. And then what?