On the eve of a new government, Iraq’s democracy is at a crossroads. Months after an inconclusive parliamentary election, Iraqis express cautious optimism about the direction of their country, with the public about evenly split, 45-44 percent, on whether it is headed in the right or wrong direction.

Despite some sense of improvement in areas such as security and education, concerns about employment temper the public’s optimism. Sectarian divisions remain a major source of concern and a defining characteristic of Iraqi public opinion. And despite broad faith that democracy can bring tangible improvements to their lives, Iraqis are frustrated by their country’s political leadership.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted this research (focus groups and 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.

To read the full report, download the analysis and corresponding presentation.

Key Findings

Some key findings of this research include: 

  • Despite the gains many Iraqis see in security, aspects of the economy, and some public services, there is broad frustration with Iraq’s political class. A majority of Iraqis (56 percent) see corruption getting worse in the country and focus group participants remark that politicians put their own interests ahead of the Iraqi people. The eight-month stalemate over creation of a new government also contributes to this feeling, in part because there is a sense the political impasse hurts security, the economy and public services, at the expense of the public. As one Shia Muslim woman in Baghdad says: “If they [politicians] thought about people [instead of themselves], the government would be formed from the first day.” The resulting political cynicism helps to explain why nearly every national leader receives net unfavorable ratin
  • Despite this unfavorable perception of politicians, Iraqis see modest improvements in key basic services. Majorities cite improvements in education, access to water supply, and health care. Further, 58 percent of Iraqis see the security situation in the country improving - though this survey finished fielding just as the church massacre in Baghdad happened, which left at least 58 dead and many more wounded.
  • Many Iraqis express a desire to move past their country’s sectarian divides, yet continue to see their country and leaders largely through a sectarian lens. Among many other signs of this pattern, majorities of Sunni Muslims give Ayad Allawi favorable ratings and approve of the job he did as prime minister, while most Shia Muslims give Nouri al-Maliki favorable ratings and positive approval ratings.
  • This research shows a broad feeling of discouragement and even disenfranchisement across the Central-West region of Iraq and the Sunni Muslim population in general. A majority of Sunni Muslims say the country is headed in the wrong direction and majorities say job opportunities, cost of living and security are getting worse. As a result, Sunni Muslims and Iraqis living in the Central-West are more skeptical about the character of Iraqi democracy: only 35 percent of the former and 22 percent of the latter believe Iraq is a real democracy. This skepticism translates into a majority of Sunni Muslims (52 percent) saying they are not likely to vote in future elections.
  • Kurdish Iraqis see a different trajectory for themselves than the rest of the country. While 50 percent of Kurds say Iraq is headed in the right direction, a full 84 percent say Kurdistan is moving in the right direction.
  • Surveyed Iraqi minorities (Christians, Turkmen, Sabians, and Yezidis) share in the belief that democracy can improve their lives, though they have more potent doubts about the current state of democracy in Iraq. Concerns about the country’s direction, security, job opportunities, and significant levels of perceived discrimination hamper minority groups from fully embracing democracy. Nonetheless, Iraqi minorities are optimistic about their potential to thrive in Iraqi society: majorities of Sabians, Christians and Yezidis believe Iraq is a good place to raise their families (71 percent of Sabians, 61 percent of Christians and Yezidis) and that their minority group has just as good a chance at prosperity as other Iraqis (77 percent of Yezidis, 69 percent of Sabians, and 54 percent of Christians).


Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted 16 focus groups with Iraqi adults in 8 locations from September 22-27, 2010. Groups were homogenous with respect to age, gender, ethnicity, religion, education level, and political leanings.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner followed this qualitative research with a quantitative survey, based on face-to-face interviews conducted between October 25 - November 2, 2010 in 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces (due to safety and feasibility concerns, no interviews were conducted in Muthanna, Missan, or Dohuk). The total sample includes 2,000 adults 18 years of age and over and was representatively stratified by province.

In addition to the 2,000 base interviews, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner also conducted a survey of 1,200 Iraqi minorities 18 and older from November 7 - 14, 2010. The survey comprised 400 interviews of Christians in Baghdad, Basra and Ninewa; 400 interviews of Turkmen in Ninewa and Kirkuk; 200 interviews of Sabians in Baghdad, Basra, and Thi-Qar; and 200 interviews of Yezidis in Ninewa. Four of the 16 focus groups noted above were conducted among minority participants.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner partnered with an Iraqi public opinion research firm, the Independent Institute for Administrative and Civil Society Studies (IIACSS), to conduct this research. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner staff traveled to Kurdistan and Baghdad to train the local research partner, observe focus groups, and present findings to Iraqi and Kurdish political parties.

This research was conducted before the announcement that Nouri al-Maliki would be continuing as prime minister, and before the formation of the new government.

Source: Jeremy Rosner, John Moreira, Jessica Reis, Margaret Havemann, Peter Marton

Client: National Democratic Institute