Case Study 8: Afghan Poll

27 Mar

One of the real difficult parts about writing stories about statistics is that numbers, as black-and-white as they may seem, can be interpreted radically differently between people. Depending on your perspective and potential subconscious bias, numbers can spell out a completely different message.

Although both stories made use of the facts, USA Today went the extra mile to find quotes from various sources who are experts on Afghanistan. The quotes from Starr and Rubin even negated the article’s contention that the survey showed Afghans are happy. I also thought that using bullet points to convey the facts of the survey allowed readers to interpret them as they like, as opposed to the narrative style used by The Times. Statistics told as a story inherently lend itself to be biased and readers will interpret them as the publication did instead of however they naturally would. I also found The Time’s visual component to be misleading since it showed a very small chunk of the actual data, and it seemed placed there for the sole purpose for supporting their claims.

From what I gathered, the main point of the story was that the excitement of change had died down from 2004, resulting in a slight disenchantment with the political process, but the overall condition of the country for Afghans had generally improved since the U.S. intervened. This lack of extreme opinion made it difficult for either publication to firmly commit to an angle.

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Afghans confident in country’s direction; security, corruption still national concern

In the wake of democratic progression amid violent political turmoil, Afghans say they are optimistic in the direction their country is going in and they’re satisfied with their budding democracy, according to an Asia Foundation survey released Wednesday.

The primary goal of the survey, which was financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, was to determine the attitudes of Afghanistan citizens toward the political and development progress, according to an article from The New York Times. According to USA Today, it is considered the largest opinion poll conducted in the country, having surveyed in person more than 6,000 adults in 32 of 34 provinces between June and August this year.

Although the number of Afghans who feel optimistic about the nation’s trajectory is lower than it was on the eve of the first democratic presidential elections in 2004 (44 percent versus 64 percent), the overall national mood has remained positive since. Seventy-seven percent said they were satisfied with the way democracy was working in Afghanistan.

Sixty percent said they rarely or never worried about their own safety, although 22 percent said security was the biggest problem facing the nation. Polling could not be conducted in the conflict-ridden southern Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.

Corruption proved to be one of the larger concerns on a national scale with about 77 percent of respondents saying it was a national problem and 60 percent said it had increased on a national level. Forty-two percent said it was a problem in their daily lives. Fifty-one percent of those who interacted with public health care officials reported paying bribes for service. However, it fell behind unemployment and lack of services as a main criticism of the government.

The survey also showed a strong approval of newly instated government infrastructure, such as the Afghan National Police, of which 86 percent approved. However, it has been a long-standing idea that the national police have been criticized for its extreme corruption.

George Varughese, director of the poll, told USA Today although the results “appear to challenge the current wisdom on issues in Afghanistan,” it is an important piece of work.

However, some experts warn not to let these statistics skew the idea that country is still in a state of rebuilding and violent insurgency. “What they affirm is that help produces results, which in turn generates appreciation,” Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, told USA Today.

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