A survey of Syrians, conducted in secret because of government prohibitions, shows strong dissatisfaction with prevailing political and economic conditions. Though that may not be a surprise, the fact that any kind of opinion poll could be conducted in Syria, was certainly an eye-opener, the study's authors say.
"The most surprising result had nothing to do with survey findings, but rather the fact that you could get this data collected. People really wanted to talk," said lead author, Angela Hawken of Pepperdine University. The report was commissioned by the Los Angeles-based Democracy Council, based in Los Angeles.
Because nongovernmental surveys are illegal in Syria, researchers worked under the radar to conduct in-person interviews with 1,046 respondents over several weeks this year. The results, which were not based on a representative sample due to the limitations, showed that a majority of respondents feel the political and economic situation in Syria is bad. A majority also said they believe that the state of emergency should be lifted and that the threat of war is far less crucial than concerns about political freedom, corruption and the cost of living.
Much of this may come as no surprise to Syria observers, but Hawken also pointed out nuances among the respondents. Women, she said, tended to be markedly more optimistic than men, while older Syrians were more pessimistic than younger ones.
"I have three hypotheses," said Hawken, stressing that she is an economic and political analyst, not a Middle East expert. "Either women are indeed more satisfied, or women are less well-informed about political issues ... The other contending reason is that they were more intimidated to participate in the survey."
As for the difference in age groups, Hawken didn't offer a theory but suggested future studies may shine more light on the subject. "As researchers, the big implication is that it is possible to collect data in these countries that can be tough to work in," she said, adding that the Democracy Council plans to carry out another, more detailed survey in Syria next year.
Lutz is a special correspondent