WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Former President Bill Clinton, the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti, described Haiti's catastrophic earthquake as an opportunity to "reimagine the future for the Haitian people." Haiti is commonly regarded not only as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but also as the least stable in terms of its governing bodies. Gallup's December 2008 survey of Haitians indicated they were less likely than neighboring Dominicans and most other Central American populations to express confidence in key institutions.
The finding that fewer than one in four Haitians expressed confidence in the country's national government (24%), judiciary (20%), or electoral system (19%) before the earthquake reflects Haiti's consistently poor showing in international governance rankings. In the 2009 Failed States Index, produced by Foreign Policy magazine and The Fund for Peace, Haiti was the only Western Hemisphere state described as at "critical" risk of failure. The World Bank's 2008 World Governance Indicators placed Haiti in the bottom 10% of all countries with regard to government effectiveness, rule of law, and control of corruption.
Haiti's weak public institutions and lack of regulation may also have affected residents' perceptions of the private-sector businesses so crucial to job growth. Commercial banks, for example, are less willing to extend loans amid government instability. In the Gallup survey, one-third of Haitians (33%) said they were confident in the country's financial institutions, versus a median of roughly half (51%) among the 12 Central American/Caribbean countries surveyed. In addition, as in all other nations in the region, a majority of Haiti's residents believe corruption is widespread in the country's businesses.
The weaknesses that have kept the Haitian government from effectively addressing its constituents' economic hardship have also contributed to social unrest -- as reflected in high rates of violent crime, particularly in Port-au-Prince. One-third of Haitians (33%) reported in 2008 that they had been assaulted in the past year. That figure far outdistances 2009 results from the Dominican Republic (9%), as well as the median figure for 12 countries in Central America and the Caribbean (13%). Though Port-au-Prince saw significant security improvements in 2009, the earthquake has reversed those gains.
Gallup's 2008 survey results reflect the notion that, in a region characterized by weak and corrupt institutions, Haiti's have been among the least likely to inspire citizens' confidence. One Haiti expert interviewed by Time magazine in January called the earthquake an "apocalyptic blow" to an already "hollow" government. Whether the current crisis represents a fresh start for Haitians or simply a further setback for an already failing society may largely depend on whether the Haitian people, with the support of aid organizations and foreign governments, can use the rebuilding process to lay a stronger institutional foundation for stability and growth.
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Results from Haiti are based on face-to-face interviews with 500 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Dec. 8-13, 2008. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4.7 percentage points.
Results from the Dominican Republic are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted July 21-Sept. 2, 2009. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.6 percentage points.
Regional medians for countries in Central America and the Caribbean include results from Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago. All surveys were conducted between June 2006 and September 2009. For results based on the total samples of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.3 percentage points in most countries to a high of ±4.8 percentage points in Trinidad and Tobago.
The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. 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.