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 Last week’s poll with slightly different wording found 64% of people wanted troops withdrawn.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All British forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan as quickly as possible – 64% AGREE
British troops should be withdrawn immediately from Afghanistan – 52% AGREE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.

8 Responses to “Afghanistan”

  1. What is also interesting, but perhaps very hard for polls to guage is the strength of the feeling… whereas around 50% of people want troops out of Afghanistn immedeaitely, the strength of feeling is far less than for Iraq, even if for arguments sake the figures where the same..

    I am sure the same would apply over the ‘justness’ of the war (which is of course connected). Even those who feel the Afghan war is unjustified, tend to do so with less passion than the Iraw war, although the polls could look broadly similar. Errmm… not sure I am explaining this well. Something about the difficulty of polls dealing with the importance of feeling attached to an issue..

  2. I believe more attention should be paid to the government decision to attempt, through the courts, to reduce the awards to two wounded servicemen – because the wounds had deteriorated since they were received.! It is difficult to believe the cruelty and stupidity of such a decision -how to win friends and influence people.

  3. Collin – there haven’t been any polls about it, therefore there’s no posting about it. It’s not a forum for general grumbling about things the government have done you don’t like.

  4. Anthony. My apologies.

  5. No worries and sorry for being snippy. It annoys we when I see a thread threaten to vere off into a rant-a-thon before it’s even begun!

  6. The Government’s problem is that they are not communicating to the public the strategic objective for this intervention, which has been going on since shortly after 9/11 i.e. longer than the Second World War. I don’t accept that they don’t have a strategic objective but they sure have an obscure way of putting it around.

    Combine this with a growing feeling that Karzai’s government is corrupt, homophobic and sexist and even the strongest supporter of intervention to keep out the Taliban is going to have doubts.

  7. This polli a way highlights an issue that politicians steer away from. As Weber pointed out about social scientists their job is to look at peoples views and opinions and to point out the consequences and contradictions in them.

    The contradiction that appears in British public opinion seems to be that we want a strong military and the ability to project force to protect our interests but went don’t like taking casualties or prolonged wars.

    So when we feel threatened or are attacked we will back our boys for a quick if even bloody war like the Falklands but if we don’t percieve ourselves to be in immediate danger and we end up in a prolonged war then support falls.

    There seem to be two ways for politicians to deal with this;

    Advocate a scaling back of our defence capabilities so that we can avoid Iraq’s and Afghanistans by not having the capability to commit forces to distant conflicts like that, or

    Maintain the capability but restrict ourselves to short intensive conflicts where the long term stabilisation and reconstruction is done by others.

    In a way if we avoid the second we would be gearing ourselves to play a part in the first.

    A problem with the short sharp strategy is that if you don’t go unless there are people to take over once the worst is over then you run the risk that either;

    There are no volunteers and therefore you don’t go and a regime you would engaged goes unchallenged or,

    The follow up forces aren’t up to the job or people pull out and you then have to bolster them or take it over yourself.

    No easy answers, but if we are soon to have a defence review we should try to learn the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Unfortunately I suspect that in the run up to an election no part will want to look weak on defence or be costing jobs, so they will produce manifestos that talk about maintaining our forces when they all know that they won’t be able to afford them.

    Such is politics.

    There is an adage that you shouldn’t deloy more forces that you are prepared to lose, but if that falls to twenty a month are we moving towards armed forces that we aren’t prepared to deploy.


  8. I don’t think there’s anything mysterious about the poll figures. There is always a pattern with foreign wars and the resulting casualties. Initial enthusiasm, then stolid acceptance, then discomfort and a yearning for a way out. Frankly I think that war-fighting is one of those areas where representative democracy is better than direct democracy. No government should enter into a war that is utterly opposed by the population from the start (and, really, none ever does) but it is also right that the political class stands firm and perseveres even after the electorate is getting cold feet. Anything less would be a betrayal of our servicemen.