FEELS ABOUT DEMOCRACY
The Second National Opinion
Poll in Iraq
JNV Anti-War Briefing 57 (23 March 2004)
THE HUNGER FOR DEMOCRACY
The majority of Iraqi people are desperate
for national elections to institute a new democratically-elected
government. When confronted with a wide variety of possible
political arrangements in a national poll partly-sponsored by
the BBC, 72.2% of Iraqis strongly agreed
that there should be an Iraqi democracy, while a further
13.7% agreed somewhat, making democracy the most
When asked by Oxford Research International
in Feb. 2004 to choose between just three political options,
48.5% of Iraqis chose democracy,
27.5% went for a strong leader, and only 20.5% for
an Islamic state. When asked who should be in charge,
55.3% of Iraqis said the country should
be run by democrats; 27.3% said by a strong
leader; and only 13.7% said by religious politicians.
(Full results of the ORI/BBC poll are available in pdf format
THE INCONSISTENT DEMAND FOR DEMOCRACY
The polls have shifted around a bit on this issue since Apr.
2003. A poll in Baghdad in July 2003, carried out for the Spectator
and Channel 4 News, found that the most favoured political set-up
was British/American style democracy with various political
parties competing openly for power at 36% (the only other
real contender was Islamic rule, but tempered to modern
ideals of justice and punishment at 26%). (Excel database
available from http://www.channel4.com/news/2003/07/week_3/16_poll.html.)
Then in Aug. 2003, in a poll outside Baghdad,
while 38.2% of Iraqis polled said democracy could work well
in Iraq, 50.2% said democracy is a western way of doing
things and it will not work here. (FT, 11 Sept., p.11)
However, the first national opinion poll, carried out by ORI,
found that 90.3 per cent of interviewees
said they somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that the country
needed an Iraqi democracy. (AP, 2 Dec. 2003)
THE YEARNING FOR A STRONG LEADER
However one interprets the earlier results, democracy seems
to have had some resounding support in the Feb. 2004 ORI/BBC
survey. This isnt how everyone sees it, though.
Commenting on the ORI findings, Dr
Mustafa Alani of the Royal United Services Institute said that
the Iraqis wanted a strong leader, but had not found one yet:
The main point is that the Iraqis are now looking for
a strong leader who can save the day. (Survey
finds hope in occupied Iraq, BBC News Online, 16 Mar.)
How can you conclude this is the main
point? By ignoring the findings on democracy, and looking
only at the level of support for a strong leader.
The ORI/BBC poll found that while 72.2% of Iraqis strongly wanted
democracy, 66.5% strongly wanted a (single) strong Iraqi leader.
With another 14.6% somewhat desiring this, the total
in favour of a single strong leader was 81.1%, just 4.8% behind
Which means that the
vast majority of Iraqis are in favour of both democracy and
a single strong leader. (Interestingly, the idea of a
group of strong Iraqi leaders received much less support: 23.9%
strongly and 29.1% somewhat in favour, total 53% support.)
THE PRESENT CRISIS
Things begin to get clearer, perhaps, when you consider the
differences between the answers to questions about what
is needed in twelve months, and what is needed in
In a years time, democracy is favoured
by only 28% of respondents, almost half the figure for a
single strong leader (46.6%). In five years time,
however, support for democracy shoots up to 41.6%, to only 31.5%
for a single strong leader.
When the democrats were asked why they
supported the idea of democracy in five years time, only
one answer got more than 10% support: because democracy guarantees
freedom. When the autocrats were asked the same question,
there were three answers that got more than 10% support: To
take control of the country (24.7%); He guarantees
security/peace (17.8%); and He provides unity
This suggests an underlying desire for
democracy and freedom, coupled with a deep insecurity, which
together create a contradictory support for both democracy and
There is a strong
underlying desire for democracy, however.
When asked to choose their preferred mix of political system
and political actors (the people who make the system run), the
strongest support was for democracy run by democrats:
41.8% against 18.8% for a strong leader [set-up] run by
It should be made clear that the support
for a strong leader is not the same as support for
Saddam Hussein. In July 2003, the Spectator/C4 poll found
only 5% of people wanted their old leader back. In the Feb.
2004 ORI/BBC poll, when asked which Iraqi national leader they
trusted, only 3.3% opted for Saddam, and only 1.7% said they
would vote for his Baath Party in elections.
One reason why democracy may have been seen as a Western
idea that would not work in Iraq may be its multi-party
nature. This doesnt seem highly favoured. When asked in
Feb. 2004 what the most important aspect of democracy was, the
top two answers were: freedom (34.2%) and fair elections (7.4%).
When asked what the three most important
aspects of democracy were, multi-party system was
barely mentioned: it never got more than 1% support. 75.3%
of people said they would never join a political
party or action group.
There was great distrust of the political
parties: 7.1% had a great deal of confidence in them; 20.7%
had some confidence, but 25.4% had not very much confidence
in them, and 35.7% had no confidence
in political parties at all.
In the previous national ORI poll in Nov.
2003, only around a fifth of Iraqis questioned said they
trust political parties
Some 71 per cent of respondents
declined to mention any party they would vote for, while those
who did mentioned 38 different political parties. (news.com.au,
2 Dec.) This time, while distrust stayed at the same level,
the percentage of people declining to mention any party they
would vote for had dropped to 58%.
AMBIVALENCE OVER RELIGIOUS RULE
The Feb. 2004 ORI/BBC poll confirms once again that the majority
of the Iraqi people do not want clerical rule. The
Iraqi people have great confidence in their religious leaders,
but they do not want them to hold power.
Iraqis had more confidence in their religious
leaders than any other group in Iraq. 42.4% had a great deal
of confidence in their religious leaders, compared to 11.3%
for the Governing Council, and 7.9% for the US/UK occupation
But when they were asked who should take
care of various pressing issues (rebuilding the infrastructure,
regaining public security and so on), religious leaders
got very little support the highest figure was 4.4% for
helping to ensure that elections were held. Even on the issue
of ensuring that religious rules are followed, religious
leaders were entrusted with this authority by only 26%
True, when they were asked whether they
supported or opposed the idea of a religiously-led government,
53.2% of people supported it (27.4% strongly), compared to 44.5%
support for the Governing Council and 85.9% for democracy.
But when asked to choose between
religious rule, democracy and authoritarian rule over the next
year or the next five years, religious rule received the support
of only 10.4 or 9.8% of people, compared to 28 or 41.6% support
WASHINGTON DELAYS DEMOCRACY
[T]he past year has shown that Iraqs vision of democracy
and the projection of American power do not necessarily coexist.
The most glaring illustration is in Iraq itself, where the
US has been resisting early elections out of fear that radicals,
whether Shia or Sunni, would make gains. (Roula
Khalaf, FT, 23 Mar., p. 21)
The US had plans for selecting an
interim government that even the Telegraph
described as far from democratic
(see Bfg 51 for details).
Now the interim government may be simply appointed. (AP, 21
Iraq is hungry for democracy.
The US has little appetite for such dangerous fare.
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