The first public opinion research in Iraq since the U.S. troop withdrawal reveals a dramatic shift in the country’s mood - particularly among Shia - as the political landscape adjusts. According to the most recent survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the National Democratic Institute, increased optimism about the country’s direction serves to benefit Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In turn, Maliki’s Islamic Da’wa Party sees gains in support, rebounding among key constituencies that have been vulnerable to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
However, the survey also identifies five critical issues that could impact this trend:
- Continued lack of faith in government to address concerns over jobs and basic services.
- The rising level of Sunni disillusionment in the political process and concerns about security in majority-Sunni areas.
- The potential for disaffected Shia - that is, less affluent, urban Shia voters - to shift away from Maliki. This group had formally constituted much of Sadr’s gain in popularity.
- The ability of opposition groups to emerge and build a strategic campaign.
- The intensifying divisions between Kurdistan and Baghdad.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted the research (a nationwide survey) on behalf of and in cooperation with the National Democratic Institute(NDI). NDI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. This current research builds on pastsurveysand focus groups conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and NDI that focused on Iraq’s government formation process, views of sectarianism, and minority and gender issues.
Some key findings of this research include:
- From October 2011 to April 2012 - a period during which the U.S. troops withdrew from the country - Iraqis’ overall outlook improves significantly. A 48-percent plurality now thinks the country is heading in the right direction, an 11-point jump over 6 months.
- Improved perceptions of country direction and the economy benefit Nouri al-Maliki. Since October 2011, the share of Iraqis who approve of the job he is doing as prime minister has jumped 19 points; for the first time since the formation of the current government, a 53-percent majority now approves of the job Maliki is doing as prime minister.
- Maliki’s increasing popularity translates into gains for Da’wa. His party now holds a solid lead in a hypothetical parliamentary election with 22 percent support, a jump of 6 points since October 2011. The Iraqi National Accord trails in second place with 12 percent - a 2-point drop since last year - and Sadr Trend remains steady in third place with 10 percent of the vote.
- Although the country’s mood has improved, large majorities of Iraqis outside of Kurdistan continue to feel that both job opportunities and electricity supply are getting worse - 89 percent and 77 percent, respectively. Electricity supply is seen as particularly weak in the South, where 92 percent feel it is getting worse. Unless Maliki can convince the public that he is sharply focused on these two dominant issues, the prime minister’s ability to maintain his current support may falter.
- Unlike Shias and Kurds, Sunnis list security as their top concern. Almost half (48 percent) choose security as a top concern, an increase of 3 points since last year. A sign of Sunnis’ growing sense of insecurity is their view toward Iraq’s unity. For the first time since this research began in November 2010, a majority (58 percent) of Sunnis believe Iraq is a divided country as opposed to a unified country, a dramatic 29-point jump since March 2011.
- Since October 2011, Maliki has improved his image among disaffected Shias, among whom his favorability rating increases by 14 points to 55 percent. Sadr remains this group’s most popular politician, with a 62 percent favorable rating, but that is only an increase of 1 point since last year.
- A full 89 percent of Iraqis would feel more favorable toward an opposition group that would “closely monitor the government’s actions and make public any missteps, bad policies, or corrupt practices.” Moreover, Iraqis would be more likely to vote for the members of an opposition group if they were to take these types of steps. A strong majority, 66 percent, say they would be more likely to vote for an opposition group that takes such steps.
- Kurdish tensions with the central government and the rest of the country are increasing, a trend that threatens to exacerbate divisions within the country. A full 64 percent in Kurdistan now see Iraq heading in the wrong direction, compared to 6 months earlier, when a 47-percent plurality felt the country was heading in the right direction.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted a nationwide survey, based on face-to-face interviews from April 5-20, 2012 in 17 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. The total sample includes 2,000 adults 18 years of age and over and was representatively stratified by province and urbanicity. The margin of error on the total sample is +/- 2.2 percent and the margin of error on each individual region is +/- 4.4 percent.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner partnered with an Iraqi public opinion research firm, theIndependent Institute for Administrative and Civil Society Studies(IIACSS), to conduct this research. NDI advisors met with party and government leaders to present the results.