How to make surveys in war zones better, and why this is important

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Yang-Yang Zhou
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Monkey Cage, The Washington Post, 7th January 2015

Shortly after toppling the Baathist regime, the U.S. military contracted with a local Iraqi firm to run a major public opinion survey in Baghdad. The effort was massive: in-person interviews nearly every month over a five-year period across the city’s nine urban and rural municipalities. In total, some 200,000 residents were randomly sampled and interviewed. Respondents were asked about everything from their level of support for insurgent attacks against the coalition and Iraqi government military forces to their degree of satisfaction with a variety of public goods and services to their past perceptions and future expectations regarding the abilities of Iraqi security forces to fight terrorism.

Data collected during this period reveals a statistically strong, positive relationship between support for attacks against coalition forces and the number of insurgent attacks actually perpetrated against coalition forces. This basic relationship, plotted below, might lead analysts to ask whether members of the public switch allegiance after observing a rise in effective attacks on coalition forces. Or did popular support for attacks on coalition forces increase as citizens began to blame the invading forces for the concurrent rise in sectarian violence? Perhaps, instead, the relationship is reversed: a shift in public support stemming from some other factor may have led to conditions more conducive to launching attacks on coalition forces.