Syrian refugees sit inside a housing compound in Sidon, southern Lebanon, June 12, 2016.
Ali Hashisho / Reuters

Five years into the war in Syria, most reporting focuses on the ebb and flow of the fighting, incessant foreign meddling in the conflict, and the spectacular brutality of extremist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS). Aside from the occasional human-interest story on the plight of the refugees, however, ordinary Syrians have largely been lost in the shuffle.

Yet what ordinary people think of the war, and of the groups claiming to fight on their behalf, is of direct interest to policymakers, humanitarian organizations, and peace negotiators. Popular support is how the factions get fighters, material resources, information, and refuge. But it is hard to say what people actually want. Thanks to decades of dictatorship and five years of war, Syrian public opinion has been terra incognita.

Journalists and scholars now have unprecedented access to Syrian views on politics, but there is a major caveat. Whether due to physical

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  • DANIEL CORSTANGE is Anthony John Bittson National Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Assistant Professor at Columbia University.
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