It's not a poll, but a rigorous, qualitative assessment that offers an interesting window into the mood of a country where few journalists are able to travel freely.
The picture it paints is, as might be expected, gloomy. In a bleak departure from the survey's findings from the previous year, the new study concludes that most Syrians "now reject a negotiated national settlement based on compromise" and want their side to prevail militarily. A year prior, the conflict was in a grinding stalemate and there was a greater level of ambivalence among Syrians surveyed, says survey researcher Craig Charney. Over the past year, he observes, the divisions "got sharper on both sides."
But that deepening polarization has yet to change the "fiercely nationalistic" disposition of Syrians on all sides of the conflict, Charney says. No matter the collapse of the state and tragic displacement of roughly a quarter of the country's population, Syrians still want unity and, to an extent, reconciliation.
"Nearly all respondents, pro- and anti-regime alike, rejected the idea of a divided Syria," the report says. The respondents indicated that "Syria's unity and diversity has always been its strength" and feared the sectarian divisions that have been codified in the laws and geography of neighboring Lebanon and Israel.
"Syria has never, and will never be divided," a 55-year-old Alawite woman and supporter of President Bashar al-Assad told researchers in Damascus. "Syria has never discriminated between denominations or religions, and we, Syrians, know how to treat our own wounds and live together as one like we used to."
A 40-year-old Sunni man, and regime opponent, in Deir al-Zour echoed the sentiment, implying also that division is an outcome sought only by outside forces: "[Partition] is the worst outcome I can think of, because Syria and Syrians are known for their resistance against conspiracies and assaults. ... Insh'Allah we get through this, and for Syria to go back to being better than it was."
Moreover, according to the study, Syrian respondents "almost across the board" expressed their opposition to the Islamic State, a jihadist organization dominated by foreigners. "They harmed Islam and the Syrian revolution," a Sunni woman told the researchers. She happened to be anti-regime and living in Raqqa, the eastern Syrian city that has become the Islamic State's main stronghold.
The fact that Syrian nationalism can endure in even these trying circumstances may surprise some. Since the country's virtual implosion, pundits have pointed to the inevitable partition of the Middle East's "artificial states," which emerged after World War I. The Islamic State, as WorldViews discussed earlier, has also embraced this narrative, seeing its own supposed caliphate as a more legitimate political entity than countries that were created by Western imperial mandates.
But Syria is not a flimsy fiction nor a nation kept united just by the ruthless politics of one autocrat, the study shows. "There is a there, there," as Charney puts it. "Syrians are connected by a shared history and sense of community, by the existence and the memory of social institutions, physical infrastructure that brought them together."
That's cold comfort as the bloodshed continues unabated. But the study points to a clear desire among Syrian respondents for a return to normality. Many are in favor of the implementation of local ceasefires in pockets of the country, freezes in the conflict that are in line with proposals made by Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.'s envoy to Syria.
De Mistura's efforts, though, have led to a great deal of criticism and cynicism. As attitudes harden in war-torn Syria, one can understand why.