Today’s Independent has a new ComRes poll on Afghanistan, rather a strange thing to commission considering their Sunday stable-mate commissioned very similar questions from ComRes just only a week and a half ago. Still, the rivalry between daily newspapers and their Sunday equivalents never fails to surprise me.
Anyway, ComRes found 75% of respondents agreed with the statement that British troops lacked the equipment they needed to perform their role safety in Afghanistan, and that 58% agreed that the war in Afghanistan was unwinnable.
35% agreed that more British troops and resources should be devoted to Afghanistan (almost identical to the figure ComRes found last week). 52% of people thought that Britain should withdraw troops from Afghanistan immediately.
This is a good lesson in the difference minor differences in question wording can make. Last week’s poll with slightly different wording found 64% of people wanted troops withdrawn. Here are the questions, my own emphasis added
All British forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan as quickly as possible – 64% AGREE
British troops should be withdrawn immediately from Afghanistan – 52% AGREE
The reason for the difference is pretty obvious: as quickly as possible could be taken as meaning as soon as the situation stablises, or a staged and managed handover – it could take months or even years depending on how you interpret it; immediately implies packing up straight away, regardless of the consequences.
Both questions are valid representations of public opinion, they are just asking slightly different things. The point is, we only see the difference because we have both questions to look at – if we had only one, the temptation would be to take just that as the proportion of British people who want out of Afghanistan when in this case (and, to be honest, most other cases) public opinion is rather more nuanced.