Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Youth Debates: Opinion Polls Must Not Skew Facts

By Sakhi Dad Mahdiyar

Opinion polls that deliberately misrepresent data to boost the standing of particular election candidates are liable to alienate voters, participants in an IWPR debate have heard.

Nur Agha Sharifi, a senior lecturer at Balkh University in northern Afghanistan, told an audience of undergraduates that biased, partisan surveys served only to confuse the electorate and undermine legitimate debate.

Speaking at a March 19 event held in Mazar-e Sharif, he urged pollsters to ensure their work remained impartial, accurate and above all fair.

He noted that while polling had long been an integral part of the electoral process in established democracies, it was vital that any research made public in Afghanistan stood up to rigorous scrutiny.

“If opinion polls are conducted carelessly in countries like Afghanistan, it can lead to unnecessary tensions," Sharifi warned.

The guest panellists at the debate included Shamsuddin Shams, a civil society activist, and Ajmal Ahadi, deputy operations manager of the Independent Election Committee (IEC) for Balkh province.

All of speakers accepted the importance of opinion polls, as long as these gave an honest reflection of public sentiment.

“We can increase the reliability of opinion polls by applying standards such as impartiality, transparency, and fairness,” Shams said. “Phenomena like freedom of speech, human rights, and even opinion polls will take time to be institutionalised in a country like Afghanistan.”

Sakhi Dad Mahdiyar is a student at Balkh University and an IWPR trainee.

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.