Saturday, March 22, 2008

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Dumbest poll ever

I certainly think public opinion matters in the formulation of policy -- and that, over the long term, foreign policy leaders ignore the public at their peril.

That said, this Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll/press release might be the dumbest f@#$ing thing I've ever seen:

In sharp contrast to views recently expressed by Vice President Cheney, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe government leaders should pay attention to public opinion polls and that the public should generally have more influence over government leaders than it does.

Eighty-one percent say when making "an important decision" government leaders "should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public's views." Only 18 percent said "they should not pay attention to public opinion polls because this will distract them from deciding what they think is right."

When ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz cited polling data showing majority opposition to the Iraq war, Cheney responded, "So?" Asked, "So--you don't care what the American people think?" he responded, "No," and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."....

When Americans are asked whether they think that "elections are the only time when the views of the people should have influence, or that also between elections leaders should consider the views of the people as they make decisions," an extraordinary 94 percent say that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections. (emphasis added)

Wow, so let me get this straight -- when asked by pollsters whether polls are important, the American people agreed?

Seriously, the question, as phrased, is only slightly less biased than the following possible substitutes:

A) "Do you think the people's voice should be heard by politicians -- or are all y'all really just a bunch of morons?"

B) "Dick Cheney is a complete f%$#ing &%$hole who once shot someone in the face and probably likes to eat newborns. Do you think that anything he says is true, like, ever?"

C) "Which society would you prefer: one in which leaders responded to the will of the people, or one in whch leaders ignore public sentiment and send in jack-booted thugs to break up any demonstration, thus evoking Nazi Germany?"

If you look at the actual results, it's clear that PIPA simply cherry-picked responses to an old (January) poll and released them to embarrass Cheney (and say that, "hey, polls matter!!").

I'd find the exercise much more persuasive if the questions weren't so loaded. For example, did PIPA ask whether either the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve should respond to public sentiment when they make their decisions? When that 3 AM phone call comes in, should the president immediately put a poll out to calculate a response? I'd actually be interested in serious polling on the tradeoffs between expertise and democracy. This PIPA exercise is pretty much completely unserious.

In the 5 1/2 years of this blog, I don't think I've ever defended Dick Cheney, but in this case he's right and PIPA is, well, stupid. Of course leaders should not respond to every poll fluctuation on an issue. That's called leadership.

Now let me stress here that Cheney's response is still disingenuous, because polls on Iraq have not "fluctuated" so much as "sunk like a crater after recognizing that victory ain't gonna happen."

Still, PIPA's press release doesn't rebut Cheney -- it only shows how it's possible to frame poll questions to get any kind of response you want.

posted by Dan on 03.22.08 at 09:04 AM


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