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Saturday, January 18, 2003

Poll Dancing

This is one of those items which deserve a lot more attention than I'm willing and able to give. I really wish that someone from a real media source would have picked up on this, but since they didn't, I will. Note that the results I'm going to quote were released back in October.

The other day, John Le Carre emitted a large puddle of nasty bodily secretions that the Times of London was proud to put on display for all to see. In it, he noted in passing that "A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre." The Guardian's Seumas Milne also notes that in the US "half the population believes Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11 attacks, according to some polls."

Le Carre's claim, at least, wafted throughout blogdom, leading many people to wonder which poll this was. One of Tim Blair's readers, the mononymic George, comes to the rescue by identifying this Retropoll as the possible culprit. Please note that I have no way of knowing that this is really the poll Milne and Le Carre were talking about.

Tim quotes George:

The actual question asked was: "Is there evidence Saddam Hussein worked with al Qaeda?" The results: Yes (44.8%) No (22.8%) Don't know (32.4%)

Leaving aside the fact that 44.8% is not "one in two", believing that there is evidence that Saddam Hussein worked with al Qaeda is not at all the same thing as believing that he was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre.

Yes, indeed. But George goes on to say:

Though to be fair, the poll is not meant to be representative; it attempts to see how the information that people have about a particular event relates to the opinions they express.

Ah, no. I don't think so. Let's look a bit at this independent organization, Retro Poll, and its poll. Here's the home page of Retro Poll. It begins by saying:

Do you have a suspicion that public opinion polls you read and hear about in the corporate media may be done mainly to support the views of those commisioning the polls? Perhaps you think that polls mold public opinion as much as they ascertain the public's will? If you do, then you should be a Retro Poll supporter. Retro Poll's starting point is that potential and real bias by corporate media, the two major political parties and government in survey research are a danger to the free and open discourse of ideas in a democracy.

And Retro Poll's ending point is to create poll unsullied by corporate or government spin, yet laughably biased toward their own viewpoint. For example, right above this fearless denunciation of government/corporate bias, they proclaim:

Results of the first poll show that support for the war is a result of government propaganda.

The linked page does show the results of their first poll, but it doesn't come to that conclusion, which---surely I hardly need say this---is a conclusion no scientific poll would claim. But if you want to see what flimsy evidence exists for this, you need to look at this cross-correlation between two questions, which were: Is there evidence that Saddam Hussein worked with Al Qaeda? and Do you support War against Iraq or other countries the U.S. labels as "supporting terrorism" when they are not attacking anyone?

Those are the only two questions cross-correlated. From the answers to these two questions, they conclude that 75% of people who believe that Saddam and Al Qaeda are unconnected are against the war in Iraq. But, if I have read their table correctly, 33 people (out of 150) believe there is no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and out of those, 25 are against war with Iraq.

I'll point out again that this is a poll based on 150 people. If poor Iain Murray were not preoccupied right now, perhaps he could tell us how close this comes to being an accurate poll. Here they claim that they get a 6-8% margin of error, and defend their small sample size.

Their press release, by the way, states that:

The association we have shown between having misinformation on Iraq's sponsorship of Al Qaeda terrorism on the one hand, and a willingness to go to war with Iraq, on the other, is very strong.

My emphasis. Remember, if you believe that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda may be linked, you are misinformed.

Let's look at some of poll questions.

The first question is about whether you believe US government policies since 9/11 are "worsening" world tensions. (Not "increasing", but "worsening"--whereas another option is "lessening", rather than "relieving".)

The next question (with results):

2)Who invaded Kuwait in 1991?
Russia (0.7%)
Israel (1.4%)
Iraq (67.3%)
Don't Know (30.6%)

That's an interesting question considering that none of these is the right answer. (Except, of course, "Don't Know.") The right answer is "the US and its allies", who invaded Iraqi-held Kuwait in February of 1991 (air war began in January). Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. See this timeline. I'm assuming this is just sloppiness.

Next question:
3) In the 1980s which nation provided the money and military training to Osama Bin Laden and his Islamic fundamentalist followers to build them into a fighting force against the Russian Army in Afghanistan?
Cuba (0.7%)
Iraq (11.6%)
the U.S. (43.8%)
Don't Know (43.8%)

What, no Pakistan? No Saudi Arabia? Huh.

The next question is about executions world-wide, which is odd, since it doesn't seem to have anything to do with Iraq or terrorism. (But see the section after the list of advisory board members.)

More questions:

5) Is there evidence that Saddam Hussein of Iraq has developed nuclear weapons?

6) Is there evidence Saddam Hussein worked with Al Qaeda?

7) Do many nations of the world support the U.S. government's stated intent to overthrow the government of Iraq by force?

Now that was an unbiased formulation.

8) In 1973 did the CIA work with Chilean army generals to overthrow Chile's elected president, Salavador Allende resulting in the torture of many thousands of Chileans?

9) Was the U.S. found guilty by the World Court for its sponsorship of terrorist crimes by the Contra army in Nicaragua in the 1980s?

Nope, no agenda here.

The next question asks people their definitions of terrorism, and the question after that, their definitions of state terrorism. Then:

12) In the Palestinian uprising of the past two years 84 children were killed on one side before the other side killed a child. Were these killings committed by
a) the Israeli Army (10.0%)
b) Palestinian militants (12.9%)
c) neither (1.4%)
d) don't know (75.7%)

Huh. Well, right about this time the agenda starts hitting you over the head. You know, I realize that there are such things as biased polls, polls which try to manipulate the way you answer---but I wonder if there are many polls which try to indoctrinate you.

The next set of questions asks for your personal opinion on recent events.

13) You may have heard there was a recent, short lived, military coup against the elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. There are many reports that substantial funding for the coup came from the U.S. Government.

a) might backing a coup cause hatred of the United States in Latin America?

b) do you approve of this U.S. intervention?

You'll note that the second half of the question assumes that the backing did in fact come from the US.

By this time quite a few of the answers are "don't know". Think the respondents might've smelled a rat? I wonder how many, if any, of them bailed before they got to the end.

The next questions asks a similar question about Bush's demands to remove Arafat, and whether that is likely to "cause hatred", and whether we approve of Bush's demands.

Question 15 is a long, four-part question about Israel, and terrorism, which insinuate that Israeli actions are "state terrorism". The last question is this:

16) Do you Support or Reject including the following elements in a war on terrorism.
a) That the U.S. should support international attempts to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

b) Lengthy detention for anyone, citizen or not, who the U.S. government decides to arrest without providing criminal charges, proofs or trials.

c) The use of outlawed interrogation techniques such as torture.

d) A requirement that the U.S. government must prove accusations against nations before attacking them.

e) War against Iraq or other countries the U.S. labels as "supporting terrorism" when they are not attacking anyone.

Here are a few (admittedly minor) news outlets which report on this poll. There are also quite a few references on Indymedia sites, but I don't want to have to wash off my computer. Look 'em up yourself.

Here's a benefit for Retro Poll (scroll down to July 30).

Retro Poll lists its advisory board here. I googled until I was tired of googling, and here's what I dug up.

Advisory Board

Mike Davis
PhD Professor of History, author
State University of New York, Stony Brook

Speaks at anti-capitalist demonstration

Is the model for a character in a mystery novel. This gives some background on his time in LA. (He's a friend of the author's.)

Charles Drekmeier PhD
Emeritus Professor of Political Science,
Stanford University

The link to Stanford's Pol. Sci. department lists him as Emeritus. He doesn't have a web page. This is Condoleezza Rice's old department, just by the bye.

Signed petition protesting sanctions against Iraq.

Urges a halt to the bombing of Yugoslavia.

David Himmelstein MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
Harvard University

I couldn't find a page at Harvard for this guy, nor even what department of the med school he's in. This page says he's Chief of the Divison of Social and Community Medicine at Cambridge Hospital, and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

I gather that hospital physicians often have some sort of position as a "professor" at a medical school, even if they do very little teaching. Kind of like being an adjunct professor, I suppose. So I guess it's not too surprising that he wouldn't be listed in any of Harvard's departments.

He's a strong proponent of national health insurance. Here he is on some sort of panel with, among others, Arianna Huffington.

Sut Jhally
Director, Media Education Foundation

Jhally's schtick is the study of our sheep-like manipulation by the media and advertising. He's a Professor of Communications at U. Mass, and executive producer and director of the video, The Myth of the Liberal Media, with Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.

Justin Lewis, PhD
Professor of Jounalism, Media and Cultural Studies
Cardiff University, UK

Same as Jhally, pretty much. He also worked on the Chomsky video.

Peter Phillips
Associate Professor of Sociology
Sonoma State University
Director, Project Censored

Googling on this guy (Beware of imitations! Peter Phillips is a common name; I know at least one other who is a professor.) yields a zillion hits. The Project Censored web page is also rich in interesting things, if you're into that. Apparently the View from the Right is never censored. Here, for example, are the 25 Most Censored Stories of 2001-2002.

Anuradha Mittal Scroll down a bit.
Co-Director, Food First

True cause of hunger in the world is the US.

Charles Stein
Professor Emeritus of Statistics
Stanford University

If you hurry, you can sign up for a workshop celebrating his caree, in Singapore. (This is actually the sort of honor which doesn't come to just anyone. He must be a real hot-shot.)

This account of an anti-death penalty march describes a Charles Stein who may be this one.

I didn't find any record of political leanings for Ekman, Finkelstein, Newcomer, or Janson. I will say that every polling organization needs the advice of a radio host (Kris Welch of KPFA, lefty Berkeley station), and a folk singer (Bruce "Utah" Phillips). I bet I can guess what their political leanings are.

Retro Poll's FAQ explains that it will do polling on highly controversial topics "such as the War on Terrorism, the Middle East, the Death Penalty, a National Health Care system, etc." Perhaps this explains some of the odder questions. I'm wondering if it fully explains the participation of some of the advisors. For example, does Himmelstein the national health insurance advocate necessarily agree with their anti-war stance? Or does he not believe that lending his name to the poll signs him up for all its beliefs? Is this another example of one left for all, and all for one?

But surely the scholarly advisors ought to be ashamed of themselves for attaching their names to this thing. They complain that biased government and corporate polls distort reality, so their solution is to make an even more blatantly biased one? I'm actually insulted that they thought such a bare-faced agenda would escape un-noticed. Idiots. I shall watch their future career with considerable interest.