Deceiving Polls on Obama and Afghanistan
Of all the instruments used to determine what people are thinking, polling is the most widely used in social science and the easiest to conduct. But you have to be careful of the results, because polls are also used to bolster partisanship on certain issues (like war or health-care), or to damage a person’s reputation during an election cycle.
Take this poll by the USA Today, which is used by Third Way‘s Kyle Spector on why Americans still support President Obama on Afghanistan:
—A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 58 percent support the president’s timetable to begin withdrawing some troops in July 2011. And, although the question isn’t asked as frequently, other polls found significant majorities believe in the mission in Afghanistan even as they see U.S. efforts hitting obstacles. Sixty-one percent believe that “eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal for American troops to fight and possibly die for,” and 76 percent believe what happens in Afghanistan matters to their security in the U.S.—
Poll results are only as accurate and reliable as the poll themselves. So when a poll asks a very specific question, geared towards a specific answer, like “eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal,” the poll itself doesn’t really capture the real opinions of Americans. How can American citizens not respond positively to the question of eliminating terrorists? That’s like asking an American if he/she likes democracy, or giving a fat kid the choice between a piece of cake and a carrot stick. Obviously he’s going to choose the cake.
This is not to say that Third Way is a bad organization. Third Way has a great reputation in Washington D.C. But this poll is a little shaky. A real good question shouldn’t introduce bias in order to sway a respondent towards a particular answer. All polling companies do this, of course, but that still doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Kyle Spector of Third Way. His article appears on FP.com’s AfPak Channel**