Mark Riley

‘We just want to ask people a few questions,’

The first poll from the war zone.

‘We just want to ask people a few questions,’ we said, innocently clutching our pollster’s clipboards. The GI didn’t know whether to laugh or give us a slap. ‘You’re out of your heads. Don’t even think of leaving the Palestine Hotel. I’ve been in every kind of war situation you can imagine, and this is the most dangerous — because there are no rules. It’s completely unpredictable. Now they’ve taken to CQAs (close-quarter assassinations). It’s open season on Westerners.’

A month earlier, the editor of The Spectator had asked YouGov to conduct a poll in Iraq. Our reaction had been the same as the GI’s: he must be crazy. Apart from the danger, as Internet-based pollsters, the idea of polling in a country where the telephones still don’t work was unthinkable. But week after week, he came back to us, refusing to take no for an answer. ‘You have a fundamental responsibility here,’ he said.

He was right. It was something that had to be done. YouGov operates on the principle that high-quality public-opinion research should play a central part in the decision-making process. People with the power to shape our world need to understand the views of everyone affected, and be responsive to them. And nowhere in the world right now is public opinion as important as in Iraq. If America and Britain are prepared, in the name of its citizens, to invade a country and overthrow its government, we must understand them. If we truly want to build a better future for Iraqis, we must listen to them first.

So yes, somehow we had to do the poll. But we also had to be realistic. Even non-military foreigners were coming under attack. A journalist had just been shot dead at the University of Baghdad.

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