Iraq, the Media, and American Public Opinion

Let’s keep in mind this is an election year, and the first presidential election after 9/11.

So the electorate is going to be polarized to begin with. By that I mean there will be a certain percentage of voters who will vote one way or another regardless of the candidate or their positions on issues–i.e., a generic Republican or Democrat can count on, I guess, 25% of the vote to begin with.

Then you add the 2000 election, the war against Iraq, and the aforementioned 9/11, and each side goes up to 40% or so of the electorate who will vote their candidate, no question about it, LALALALALALA I’M NOT LISTENING TO ANYONE WHO TELLS ME OTHERWISE AND I WON’T PULL MY FINGERS OUT OF MY EARS UNTIL IT COMES TIME TO PUNCH A VOTER CARD.

That is what you’re seeing here. It’s Bush vs AnybodyButBush, evenly matched. You will get variations based on whether a poll queries registered voters vs likely voters, how a poll asks a certain question (scotandrsn parsed this pretty well), etc., etc.

I haven’t seen anything that indicates one campaign is pulling ahead of the other. Remember, it’s not statistically significant unless the difference between the candidates is at least twice as large as the margin of error. And there’s a lot of people who haven’t made up their minds yet, and won’t until September at the earliest.

For every Kerry supporter who wonders how the hell Bush’s numbers stayed where they were, and even rose, after the month he had, there’s a Bush supporter wondering how Kerry’s numbers didn’t drop after $50 million worth of political carpet bombs dropped on the “battleground states”.

Personally, what I think will happen is Bush will get so many votes from his “red states” that he’ll end up winning the popular election . . . and lose in the electoral college. And the day after the election, it will be announced that Osama bin Laden was actually captured months before.

By the French forces that are in Afghanistan.

I don’t understand your complaints about sample size. Have you looked at polls before? This is pretty much par for the course on sample sizes and, as they note, it gives you a statistical uncertainty on the order of ±3%. Now, there can always be more substantive problems with how they ask the question, etc. (as you noted) and how they did their sampling. But, if you are going to say you don’t believe this poll because of its small sample size and/or its methodology in regards to people who refuse to respond, you are probably going to find there are few polls that you can believe.

Since I’m in a grad statistics class currently, maybe I can explain why there is a concern about sampling size (if I can’t, I’ll be screwed for my final next week). In statistics, if you survey a “large enough” sample, your results can represent the larger population within a certain margin of error. Usually, polling organizations work backwards from the margin of error they’re willing to tolerate to the large enough sampling size. There’s this big complicated formula to derive the sampling size. As a rule of thumb, a sample greater than 30 should be large enough. Since Harris Interactive is a marketing research firm, they should be quite capable of accurate surveys.

Actually, I don’t tend to believe US opinion polls whose sample size is significantly less than 1% of the population of the population, despite what is declared by statistical theory. This poll, for example. To believe that it accurately depicts American Public opinion on the Iraq situation, I have to accept the assumptioin that ALL people across the broad range of opinion are equally willing to answer a phone poll, in this day of the Do Not Call Registry. Maybe you can make that assumption, maybe you can’t, but until I could have some data on that to draw a conclusion from (and I am not sure how this would even be possible), I have no basis upon which to lend full creedence to the results. IMO, you can not make this assumption. I think the only people who would wish to answer a phone poll about Iraq would be those with VERY strong opinions.

Or perhaps the calls were not random. The poll report is mute on exactly who was called and how their information was obtained. Was it a really a representative sample?

To take the results at face value, if I were to walk up a random person on the street and ask them these questions, the most likely set of responses I would expect to get from them would be:

[li]that they favor withdrawing troops from Iraq within a year(51%)[/li][li]that they think it very likely that the US will get bogged down there with no stable outcome(45%)[/li][li]that they think the pre-war government statements about Iraq’s WMDs and links to al Qaeda were misleading(51%)[/li][li]that no clear evidence of WMD’s have been found in Iraq(74%)[/li][li]but that they had them anyway(51%)[/li][li]However, clear evidence of an al Qaeda link HAS been found (49%)[/li][li]that the intelligence provided to the administration was “somewhat accurate” (whatever that means)(46%)[/li][li]that when the government presented its “misleading” case based on “somewhat accurate” intelligence, it tried to present it accurately rather than exaggerating(50%)[/li][/ul]

This collective mess respresents the opinion of exactly none of the dozens of people I have talked to myself in the last year about the war, so I have a hard time believing the above interview would be likely to take place.

The REAL data we need is to find out correlations between responses (how many people who wish to withdraw troops believe evidence of an al Qaeda link has been found, etc.). Perhaps Harris provides this to whoever paid for them to take the poll. That might tell us something conclusive, despite the small sample size.

Otherwise, I have a hard time drawing any coherent conclusions based on these numbers. This poll tells me next to nothing.

I guess someone who pays lots of tax would be veritably “bin Laden”?

Drag him out and shoot him. I’ll swear out the warrant later.

So beleiving allows for invading ?  There has been ZERO proof of AQ activities in Iraq PRIOR to the invasion. After a year of occupation not a single pre-war proof. Quite the contrary seemed to be the case. AQ = radical islamist. Saddam = Secular dictator. Saddam didn't want religious types leaders in his sandbox.

If people beleive in AQ - Saddam connection because they want to… or because it makes the Iraq war excusable isn’t a good point. Invading countries and then afterwards claiming that AQ was there all along is wrong and sick.

No one but Bushites and Blair were clearly convinced about the reasons for invading Iraq. Powell made that lame joke presentation in the UN... and the rest of the world clearly thought there was no proof.

You are mixing two completely different things: the Poll and the Reason for Invasion.

The Poll

There are good reasons to believe that there was Saddam-AlQ connection. It might appear as a ridiculous notion to you, but you must admit that you are biased on the subject beforehand. Stranger things have come to pass in recent history (Stalin and Hitler pact, for example). Statements like “Saddam didn’t want religious types leaders in his sandbox” are meaningless and prove nothing. Of course he didn’t want AlQ in his hair; still, he had all the reasons to rejoice seeing them in our hair. Whatever AlQ did to us, he was a prime suspect by default. Don’t forget that out of the whole world, only Saddam and Palestinian media expressed some kind of approval for 9-11.
Reason for Invasion

Whatever you might think about 50% of US public that believes in “Saddam-AlQ connection” you must understand that those people didn’t just get up and invaded Iraq. You must always put the issue in historical perspective, exactly what all Bush-haters always refuse to do. This issue was a thorn in US side for at least since 1991. US Army had to expel Saddam from Kuwait, with attendant losses of many US soldiers lives, while almost the whole world took it for granted (including Brazil). US and GB blockaded Saddam for 12 years with all the attendant expenses and dangers, while almost the whole world took it for granted (including Brazil). All those 12 years US public was exposed to endless stories of population suffering and Saddam prospering in Iraq, with other countries (may be including Brazil?) accusing US for all this. US public might have had good reasons to be well disposed to removing Saddam. That was the message that was coming out when Bush was preparing for the invasion: “Saddam has to go”. What was wrong with that? Some people here try to insinuate that US public was ‘deceived’. In reality, very few people were deceived. Most people I talked to didn’t consider Bush arguments very convincing; they understood only that Bush wants Saddam out and they had no problem with that.

“The rest of the world” can pat itself on the back all it can imagining that they were smarter than US public. They were not smarter. They were simply impotent.

Stunning. It doesn’t matter that the case was weak, because no one believed him anyway?

Case in point. Any historical perspective is denied out of hand. There were three things to do: invade, do nothing and keep the sanctions going, or withdraw completely (the latter was never mentioned by anyone). Good part of US public didn’t care for the perfect case under the circumstances, for they considered Saddam as a pest

Next time you might be tempted to stomp a cockroach STOP!.. and present a solid case.

Speaking about ‘solid cases’, can somebody please present a solid case that Bush did actually ‘deceive’ the US public?

The way I saw it (and the OP poll generally conforms):

  • 20% of US public were clamoring for Bush to go after Saddam even before 9-11. They were angry at Bush for not doing it for a long time, calling him names like “Powell’s sissy boy” or somesuch;

  • 20% of US public didn’t want Saddam removed, come hell or high water;

  • 20% of US public looked at Bush case and said, “Yeah, I buy that, especially after 9-11”;

  • 20% of US public looked at Bush case and said, “No way I buy that”;

  • 20 % probably couldn’t be bothered.

How the hell can anyone claim that Bush “deceived the Nation”?

What Bush did was hornswoggled enough Democratic Congressmen to vote for resolution that allowed him a free hand on Iraq. Those Democratic congressmen were doing it for their own personal reasons. Nobody was ‘deceived’.

I think you are really confused on some statistical issues here. There is no reason why a statistical sampling of a large number of people has to be a few percent of the total number or more in order to give a good statistical sample, provided that the size of the sample itself is large enough in absolute numbers to reduce statistical fluctuations. Take an example of trying to determine the composition of the atmosphere: With your logic, one would argue that no practical measurement would be very accurate because your measurement device would presumably only collect a miniscule percentage of the total number of molecules in the atmosphere. However, I would argue that you could actually get fantastically good statistical results because although the fraction of the atmosphere might be small, the number of molecules in such a sampling could easily be on the order of something like 10 to the 20th power which will give you great statistics.

Now, you may be right that the way that they do the sampling introduces some systematic bias. However, that is a different issue and won’t go away by making the sample size bigger. They could survey 20% of the population and still get biased results if the way the respondents are selected (e.g., by willingness to participate) actually significantly skews the results. In my atmosphere analogy, a systematic bias would occur, for example, by looking at atmospheric composition using a collection point that is right near the tailpipe of an automobile or a major manufacturing plant.

So, yes, there may be some systematic bias in this poll. However, it has nothing to do with its sample size. And, of course, this systematic bias is an issue that good pollsters deal with all the time and I assume that they have learned how to at least roughly deal with it or at least have learned (e.g., through comparisons with election results) how large or small it tends to be.

Oh yeah, one more point: There are probably two different types of systematic bias worth distinguishing here. One type is a bias in the sample, e.g., by who chooses to answer the poll or who selects to be on Do Not Call lists (although I am not sure such lists apply to polling organizations, or at least not-for-profit polling organizations). Another type of bias is a bias in the way the questions are phrased or the order in which they are presented. This type of bias won’t go away even if you are able to improve your sampling technique in a way that reduces the first type of bias. (I think that one thing they do in some polls is randomize the order in which they ask the questions.)

So you counter my “Saddam doesn’t like AQ” statement with another statement: “Whatever AlQ did to us, he was a prime suspect by default.” When in fact Saddam was NEVER the prime suspect ! Except for Bush maybe. Everyone pointed to ObL and AQ. In fact no one ever came up with a Iraq connection except the White House. (The CIA didn’t either).

So in your historical perspective the US public wanted Saddam out anyway... what does that have to do with: 
  1. Terrorism

  2. WMD that don’t exist

  3. Al Qaeda

  4. 9-11

  5. US national security

    Like I said many times. Why didnt Bush just claim he wanted Saddam out and finish the Gulf War ? When he started making stuff up as an excuse, and badly so, that the world turned their back on the US. Bush a “straight talker”… come on… that’s a joke.

I didn’t counter your obvious statement, I said that there were perfectly valid reasons to think otherwise than you do.

I said 40% of US public likely wanted Saddam out (as OP poll indicates) while 40% likely didn’t. What does it have to do with your list? Nothing.

You seem to be so obsessed with Bush that you throw everything you can at him in hope that something will stick. If it suits your purpose to declare that US public is a one single moronic mass that can be deceived to a last man, you immediately assume this on faith. The reality is quite different.

Are you seriously saying that the same “world” that is having fits about ‘Bush unilateralism’ after Bush spent months trying to persuade it to see his side of things, would accept it if “Bush just claim he wanted Saddam out and finish the Gulf War” without a peep?

No, actually, I do realize that the sample size, in theory, ought to reflect public opinion, and that this a completely separate issue from potential bias.

What I am confused about is why I try to address these technical issues at my worst times of day, namely the crack of dawn and right after lunch. :slight_smile:

My problem with the survey is that while it ought to reflect public opinion, in my dealings with a fairly random selection of people, it does not.

Take, for example, the 4th and 5th questions, where 51% of respondents believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction just prior to the American Invasion, despite the fact that 74% acknowledge that no clear evidence of them has been found after a year.

This necessitates that a certain number of people are of the opinion that Iraq had sufficient stockpiles of WMDs to warrant a pre-emptive invasion that have by some means remained completely elusive for over 12 months.

Given the numbers involved and the stated margin of error, this overlap amounts to anywhere from 19% to 31% of the total sample, and by implication of the general adult populace.

This means that on average, roughly every fifth to every third random person whose opinion I might hear on this topic should express just this viewpoint. However, I have heard exactly one person who claims to hold such a belief at this time: President Bush. From others, I hear justifications for the war based on other criteria, but I do not hear anyone I happen to meet (and there are no shortage of random people willing to share their opinion on this subject) saying they still think some massive stockpile has somehow evaded detection.

My clumsy posts have simply been an attempt at exploring how the poll results could be so off from reality. I simply may be a statistical anomoly, but I don’t know anyone who could tell me where anything like the number of people who amount to 19-31% of Magic WMD believers might be. They apparently only talk to pollsters.

Or there’s something not quite right with the poll.

Come to think of it, the numbers I gave previously only account for the situation with the least amount of overlap, taking into account the extremes of the margin of error. Actually, the results as stated would allow for a full 51% of respondents to believe in phantom weapons, or anything in between that and 19%. So somewhere between every fifth person you run across and every other person you’ll find someone confident that the weapons will be found.

I have nothing in my own experience other than this poll to suggest that this is remotely true.

Well, maybe you are just hanging out with the right people. :wink: In fact, I have seen a number of people on this board say things like:

(1) I bet the weapons were sent over to Syria.


(2) It is easy to take a bunch of weapons and bury them in the sand somewhere and then they are nearly impossible to find. (Some cite the example of the one part from a centrifuge or whatever that was dug up in one of the nuclear scientists’ backyard.)

I don’t know if this sort of thinking accounts for as high a percentage as need be. There are probably also some people who just haven’t thought it through that much and so the answer they give depends on how the question is asked. I.e., they vaguely hold the view that there must have been WMDs because Bush and Co. were so insistent there were; however, at the same time, they have heard enough news to know noone has found any. So, they just don’t really give a lot of thought to how to reconcile these two views.

My point exactly. And furthermore, what percentage of people have posted such notions in the last three months, which is what the poll was measuring?

I agree. But still, 19-51% ?!? (I wish Harris Interactive had published some of this overlap data so we knew the actual number.)

According to the Census Bureau (Alert! PDF file) , there are about 200 million adults in this country. (I’m allowing for a discrepancy between Harris’ sense of an adult being over 18 or over 21 which I didn’t see them state, the fact that 2 years have gone by since this summary was current, the Bureau’s home page estimate that we’ve added over 10 million people in that time, and rounding off to the nearest 8th power of 10. How’s that for accuracy?)

Where, oh where, do you round up 38,000,000 to 102,000,000 grown Americans that aren’t simply supporter of Bush or the war, but today believe the WMD’s were there and have been spirited away?

Hence, my bafflement at the poll results.

Since some of the issues addressed in this and previous polls are the public’s awareness of facts, (opposed to the assessment of the split amongst equally valid “beliefs”), the evidence indicates that people are not making “an informed decision.”