Afghan Election Race Narrows
The New York Times
By Carlotta Gall

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai is still leading in the presidential race one week before the national election, but his opponents are closing the gap, and he still falls short of the 50 percent support needed to avoid a runoff, a new opinion poll showed Thursday.

The survey, by the International Republican Institute, showed Mr. Karzai with 44 percent, up from 31 percent in May. But his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the candidate for the largest opposition bloc, the National Front, showed the biggest surge, polling 26 percent, nearly four times his support in May (PDF).

Mr. Karzai’s campaign was gaining traction — he holds a favorable rating of 64 percent, according to the I.R.I. — but Mr. Abdullah was on such an upward swing that he could threaten the president if the election goes to a second round, one political analyst said, asking not to be named because of the political sensitivities of the subject. Mr. Abdullah had a favorable rating of 48 percent, the poll found.

The I.R.I. is a nonprofit pro-democracy group affiliated with the Republican Party and financed by the American government.

Among the other candidates, the independent Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and current member of Parliament, got 10 percent support, and the former finance minister Ashraf Ghani got 6 percent, both up from 3 percent in May.

The results were similar to a Glevum Associates poll (PDF) poll published this week by Glevum Associates, financed by the United States government, which placed Mr. Karzai at 36 percent and Mr. Abdullah at 20 percent. Mr. Bashardost showed 7 percent and Mr. Ghani had 3 percent.

The I.R.I. attributed Mr. Abdullah’s surge to a strong desire for change. Eighty-three percent of respondents answered yes to the question, “Do you think Afghanistan needs to change direction in the next five years?”
Fifty-eight percent of respondents thought a unified team of Mr. Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani would be a good option for Afghanistan.

Security is the issue that most concerned voters, the poll found, with the economy and jobs a close second.

The opinion poll was conducted from July 16 to 26, with in-person interviews with 2,400 adults throughout Afghanistan. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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