Monday, May 18, 2009

WaPo Facilitates Push Polling, Again.

Well. Can't get the American people off the subject of torture? Build a strawman. Instead of discussing whether or not Bush/Cheney were correct in their tactics, argue about who knew what, when (specifically, Speaker Pelosi). Don't like the results of the polls that say most of the American people want prosecution of those who tortured and those who approved the torture? Change the polls.

Resurgent Republic who I don't want to link to, just add the dot com yourself, has established itself as a new player in the Washington polling game. Building on the success of push polling in the 2000 election cycle, they are a group of hardcore Republicans including Hayley Barbour, Mary Matalin, and others, who seek to reframe the torture debate by returning to the use of 'enhanced interrogation' and once again providing stenography services to the mainstream media. Chris Cilliza at the Washington Post The Fix disappointingly wrote extensively of these latest poll results - claiming 53% overall felt such tactics were justified compared to 34% - without bothering to discuss the actual poll itself.

Remember, poll results are useless unless you know 1) who was polled, 2) how many were polled, and 3) the questions asked.

Consider this question.

"Congressman A says America should never use harsh interrogation techniques on detainees, because they are torture. Those techniques undermine our values, hurt our standing in the world, endanger American troops who might be taken prisoner, and yield little or no useful information that could not be obtained by other means."

"Congressman B says that, while harsh interrogation techniques of detainees should be used only rarely, they may be necessary in exceptional situations to protect the country. Those techniques are justified when they are the only way to stop the murder of another 3000 innocent Americans in another 9/11."

The first part includes the word torture. The question uses inflammatory, negative terms - undermine, hurt, endanger troops, and then goes on to tell us that they 'yield little or not useful information.'

The second part does not use the word torture. It uses words that are not inflammatory but uses words meant to make us feel good - exceptional, protect, justified, innocent, and then appeals to our emotions by referencing the lives lost on 9/11.

This is called push-polling. You are presented with 2 choices - good or bad, right or wrong that appeal to your emotions. The question is framed so that there is only one possible "right" answer if you are not a monster. Neither address the issue at hand, that being: various elected officials including Dick Cheney have acknowledged that the used of torture, sometimes called enhanced interrogation to make us feel better about it, was used. Do you believe that investigations should occur into who is responsible? Or, something along those lines.

The group at Resurgent Republican are long-term Washington insiders, experienced campaigners and experienced pollsters. They know how to write a poll to get the results they want, knowing full well that people tend to follow the polls. People don't like to take a stand on their own. If they think most of the country believes in something, they are more likely to believe that as well. If they've been uncertain, a well-designed push-poll will push them write over the edge. The above question is one used in the poll Cilliza cites and is the least toxic.

A 'good' polling question is a simple statement, usually based on something in the news that the subject is likely to know about, and is written in a way that does not appeal to the subject's emotions. Loaded words are never used in a properly prepared poll unless - as in Cheney's use of enhanced interrogation - you have a pre-determined result to achieve and must design a poll to elicit the answers that you seek.

The media, again, is not doing its job when it simply reports the results of a poll like this without questioning the methodology. The only information Cilliza included in his article is that the poll included "critically independent" voters. But how many people were polled? Where were they from? How were they selected? What stratification process (if any) was used? Remember - percentages are meaningless numbers if you don't know how large a sample was used. Sixty percent of 5 people is still 3.

Once again, the mainstream media perpetuating the serial stupidity of our fellow citizens as they swallow unquestioningly what the Republican Party wants fed to them.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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