Polls Demonstrate Effectiveness

 of Message, Not Mission

Written by JB Williams

©2005-08-29

 

The easiest thing to find in America today, or the world for that matter, is an opinion about the war effort in Iraq. As the old saying goes, “opinions are like rear-ends, everybody has one”, and most of them stink. Both anti-war and pro-war folks often use their favorite polling data to prop up their respective position, as if the polls have all the answers.

 

What neither side wants to admit is that these polls are for all practical purposes, useless. First, all polling results assume that those being polled are educated on the topic, qualified to have an opinion, something we know not to be true right from the start. Most people’s education on the war in Iraq is limited to at best, what they saw on the 6 o’clock news last night, or read this morning in the headlines. Few have any direct knowledge of what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq, be it good, bad or indifferent.

 

So they lean on opinion polls to either prove that they are just as bright as the balance of an equally uniformed public, or justify their preconceived notions, regardless of how anyone else feels on the topic. Either way, the polls are useless in determining true public sentiment.

 

I’ll give you a great example. In August of 2005, four respected polls concerning Iraq, each of which claim to have polled at least 1000 adults randomly nationwide in their surveys, came up with these results.

 

 

"Should the United States keep troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized,

or should the United States bring its troops home from Iraq?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay

Leave

Unsure

 

 

 

Associated Press

 

60%

37%

3%

 

 

 

Harris Poll

 

36%

61%

4%

 

 

 

Gallup/CNN/USA

 

64%

33%

3%

 

 

 

Newsweek

 

45%

50%

5%

 

 

 

 

We have all heard it reported over and over again like a broken record, that the majority of Americans no longer support the mission in Iraq. Yet these polls seem to indicate something quite different, depending upon which poll one favors. In an effort to be fair, the overall average of the four polls puts support for completing the mission in Iraq at 51.25% and leaving Iraq sometime between now and a year from now at 45.25%. Imagine that, almost the same as the last election results and hardly a majority of Americans calling for early withdraw.

 

Those who support the mission in Iraq will undoubtedly lean on the AP and Gallup polls to support their case, while the anti-war crowd will undoubtedly lean on the Harris and Newsweek polls to support theirs.

 

But what I see in these polls is two very important pieces of information. First, that only 5% or less of the population is honest enough to give the correct answer, “I don’t know”. Second, that the answer to any survey greatly depends upon (a) who is being surveyed, and (b) how the questions are being phrased. I’ll show you what I mean…

 

The AP asked the question this way, "Should the United States keep troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized, or should the United States bring its troops home from Iraq immediately?"

 

The Harris Poll asked the same question this way, "Do you favor keeping a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there OR bringing most of our troops home in the next year?"

 

I could waste paper on the others, but you get the point. These are actually two very different questions. Both ask an open ended front end question of leaving troops in Iraq indefinitely. But the back end of each question is very different. The first asks if we should “bring troops home from Iraq immediately?" and the other asks if we should “bring most of our troops home in the next year?" the second being an arbitrary “what if” obviously.

 

Which one is more valid? Which one provides a better glimpse into the hearts and minds of the American people? Don’t hurt yourself trying to come up with the right answer to this trick question. The only honest answer is neither.

 

Most news organizations contract numerous polling companies to conduct their surveys. The news organizations usually phrase the questions and then publish the set of results that supports their headline. It’s legit, it is a real poll from a real respected outside expert polling group who really did contact more than a 1000 people randomly. But, they carefully phrased the questions and then cherry picked the results.

 

Meanwhile, Joe six-pack kicks back in his easy chair after a hard day on the assembly line and miraculously discovers that he is just as much an expert on modern warfare and national security as those generals running the war or those politicians running the generals, once he finds a poll he likes of course.

 

The whole game is a sham… Still the American people tolerate the sham, even subscribe to it when it suits their own personal agenda. The most amazing part to me is the fact that so many armchair generals and closet diplomats with no credentials what-so-ever, actually believe they know best how to secure this nation, defeat world-wide international terrorism that has existed since the beginning of time, and develop a free self-governed nation in a part of the world that has never know such an opportunity since Adam and Eve hung out naked in the garden.

 

Most Americans would fail an American history class today. They would have no chance passing an exam on world history, so they don’t know how this all got started and they have no idea how to finish a job they didn’t even know needed to be done. But they have an opinion…

 

They kind of remember September 11, 2001, but they see no connection between international terrorism as a philosophy or religion and the events of that day. They know full well that Saddam Hussein was the best known terrorist on earth, but as long as he was “contained” to only terrorizing his own people, many “humanitarians” were happy to look the other way.

 

The world has known and dealt with Hussein’s evil ambitions for decades and every administration since Reagan knew the time would come when he would have to be forcibly removed from power. The Clinton administration made regime change the official policy towards Iraq, as did the UN on several occasions. But when the Bush administration decided to enforce the policy (made official years earlier), many Americans conveniently forgot all about the past, as did France.

 

The point is this. At best, polling results deliver a glimpse into how well any particular message is getting to those being polled. It is in no way a vehicle through which one can gauge the success of any military mission. The questions are phrased by people seeking a specific outcome, the data is cherry picked to support the current headline and few of those being polled have any idea what is actually going on in Iraq or anywhere else in the world.

 

Believe what you want. Support, dissent or undermine the mission of our troops. But don’t blame it on bogus polling results that are nothing more than tools of deception. If your heart isn’t in this war, so be it.

 

But when you start crossing the line of honest dissent into dishonest and dangerous propaganda peddling, remember whose lives hang in the balance.