WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite the oft-reported challenges facing Haiti's recovery process, Gallup polling in the country before the earthquake suggests its people have much to offer toward building a new future. More than 8 in 10 Haitians (81%) surveyed in December 2008 said they have a particular talent of some kind -- easily the highest proportion among 12 Central American and Caribbean populations of which the question was asked.
Almost two months after Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, one of the most challenging questions facing Haitian leaders and the international community alike is how to move forward in a way that places Haitians themselves at the center of the rebuilding effort. Activating a government-run civic service corps that could work with Haitian and international organizations to implement local rebuilding projects is one proposed idea. In a recent Los Angeles Times editorial, experts Robert Muggah and Robert Maguire argued that such a corps would tap the potential of Haitian youth and help "stimulate recovery from the bottom up."
Gallup's 2008 poll results offer reasons to expect many Haitians would embrace opportunities to improve the quality of their own lives. Almost three in four (73%) Haitians said they have some plan or idea in mind to improve their standard of living. Again, this figure is among the highest in the area, far outdistancing the regional median of 53%.
What's more, despite the chronic poverty and lack of economic opportunity in the country, Haitians believe in the value of hard work. More than three in four (78%) said people in the country can get ahead by working hard; that figure is close to the median of 80% among populations in Central America and the Caribbean.
Mobilizing the talent and creativity of individual Haitians also depends on their capacity to engage in collective action -- that is, their readiness to spontaneously organize in support of projects that benefit all the participants. The 2008 survey also offers reasons for optimism about Haitians' community orientation and charitable spirit.
Forty percent of Haitians said at the time of the survey in 2008 that they had donated money to an organization in the past month, significantly higher than the 25% of Dominicans who said the same and somewhat higher than the median proportion of 33% among 12 populations surveyed in Central American and the Caribbean. Similarly, 38% of Haitians said they had volunteered their time to an organization in the past month, compared with 25% of Dominicans and a median of 25% among populations in the region.
Haitians' high rate of reported religious participation may also help strengthen community ties. About 7 in 10 Haitians (69%) said in the 2008 survey that they had attended a place of worship or religious service in the past seven days. By comparison, 53% of Dominicans said the same, similar to the regional median figure of 54%. Relatively high levels of religious participation suggest Haiti's faith communities could be important platforms for mobilizing Haitians in rebuilding efforts -- particularly if relief initiatives can be used to unite rather than divide Haiti's Christian leaders and leaders of the country's syncretic Vodou faith.
Haitians have been no strangers to tragedy and hardship throughout their history. Gallup's survey results offer clues about their resilience in the widespread belief in their own talents and resourcefulness and in the community-mindedness implied by their relatively high rate of reported participation in volunteer activities and religious organizations. The international attention Haiti is receiving offers an opportunity to tap those assets in the immediate rebuilding process and to establish institutional supports that help more Haitians contribute to the country's growth and development.
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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.