WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Presidential candidates began campaigning last week ahead of Afghanistan's second democratic presidential election since the fall of the Taliban. A Gallup Poll conducted in December 2008 asked Afghans to name who they thought was the most trusted figure in their country. President Hamid Karzai topped the list, but the 25% who named Karzai was statistically similar to the 22% who said "no one."
Karzai, the clear frontrunner in the election scheduled for Aug. 20, will likely benefit of the nationwide name recognition he has gained after seven years of serving as president, in part because candidates will have difficulty accessing and campaigning in some areas of the country. Gul Agha Sherzai and Ali Ahmad Jalai, named as trusted figures by 6% and 3% of the population, respectively, have already withdrawn their candidacies. Abdullah Abdullah, one of Karzai's most notable contenders, was named by 1% of respondents in December 2008. In total, Afghan respondents named 47 figures.
While Karzai may be more well-known than other prominent Afghans, in 2008 Gallup found respondents spilt on his job performance as president. Forty-seven percent approved of his job performance, while 48% disapproved (5% did not answer).
Elections on the Horizon
At the time of polling, Gallup found that a majority of Afghans preferred that a newly elected government be in charge of the country. Only 10% of respondents said the current Afghan government should be in charge of the country. Twenty-six percent said foreign forces should be in charge.
A recent Christian Science Monitor article argues that, even if Karzai wins the election, dissatisfaction with the current government, combined with low voter turnout, could damage the government's legitimacy. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections, and in response, the United Nations and NATO are increasing their security presence around the country, in part to provide voter safety. With national campaigning now underway, opinions on Afghanistan's most trusted figure have likely changed since last December. Yet, no matter the results of the August election, the country's elected leader will have much work to do to continue to engage and build trust with the Afghan electorate.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,010 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in December 2008 in Afghanistan. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.7 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.