Survey research is illegal in Syria, unless the survey is conducted by the government. So if you’d asked me about the chances of pulling off an actual survey on questions such as government performance and corruption, and getting something like a representative sample, I would have said, “Somewhere between slim and none.”
Which just proves that even blogging has not succeeded in making me infallible. An outfit called the Democracy Council actually managed to organize more than 1000 face-to-face interviews. They couldn’t do real equal-probability sampling, but they stratified so as to get a pretty reasonable cut of the Syrian population, albeit not gender-balanced. Angela Hawken of Pepperdine, a methodological Puritan, did the reweighting and has blessed the results. Really, a pretty impressive feat of data-gathering.
The results aren’t very surprising, except for the fact that the respondents don’t seem to have been intimidated. (Also, I didn’t know that Syria is only 3/4 Muslim; more than 11% are Christian, and about the same are “other.” Wonder what “other” is? But that’s just about my ignorance, not an objectively surprising finding.) They have limited internet access, but 97% get satellite TV, so they aren’t entirely information-starved. Civic participation is very low.
By big majorities, Syrians dislike the government, think it’s crooked, want an end to martial law, and are pessimistic about the country’s future but more optimistic about their own future and their families’. If they were to emigrate, Europe and the Gulf are more popular destinations than the U.S.
So the big news from the survey, it seems to me, is that it could be done at all. Accurate information about public opinion in places like Syria might make important differences in policy choices.