Monday, October 24, 2005

Polls: can we rely on them?

Through Gateway Pundit, I learned this morning about some poll results that were published by the Daily Telegraph. I still have mixed feelings about this poll and the way its results were reported and these feelings drove me to the conclusion that we should neither believe nor entirely discredit the report. Here are my thoughts and observation:

First let’s take a look at the way of presenting the results; it begins with “Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed.”
Now one of the basic principles of reporting poll results is that they’re reported in terms of percentage of interviewed sample and not by turning these percentages into counts of the entire population.

Then there’s the “suicide attacks against British troops” well, as far as I know, there have been many against American troops but none against British ones and even the link provided in the report leads to a report about a roadside bomb attack and NOT a suicide attack. This makes one think that the results are being used to promote a wrong idea, i.e. we have a twist of bias here.

We also have this secret poll thing; I can understand that the poll was conducted by an Iraqi institute secretly in Iraq for security reasons but there’s no mention of the source through which the results have leaked to the paper, not even a vague note.
The other thing that makes such results unreliable is that the methodology of the poll was not revealed so was the wording of question as well as the scores of other choices of the answers, for example saying that “82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops” is a pretty much tricky sentence because while I do think that maybe even 90% of the people in any country do not want foreign troops on their land, it remains important to state whether a time interval was included in the question or not. If not, then the question was designed to give a misleading result and if there was one, then it should have appeared along with the results.

I mean it could be true or close to the truth that 82% of Iraqis do not want the troops to stay indefinitely but if it was meant to say that 82% want the troops to leave now then I assure you that the results have been forged.

Moreover, there are some contradictions among the results, look at this one closely “43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened” this means that 57% of the answers either indicated that stability and peace have improved or they have not changed and this contradicts the other statement that says “less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security” especially that everyone inside and outside Iraq knows that coalition forces are involved directly in all the training and equipping processes of the Iraqi security forces. Mohammed objected to my latter sentence as he thinks that the population is unaware of that role of the coalition forces but wait a minute! At least Iraqi police and soldiers know that and some of their families and even this small fraction is greater than 1%.

After all, I think this 43% is rather an optimistic estimate but it also gives an impression that the bulk of the poll was conducted in relatively safer places like the southern provinces rather than nationwide as the report mentioned.
Now let’s take a look at this statement:

Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province
Ironically, Maysan has one of the lowest levels of violence in the middle and southern parts of the country and practically speaking if we put aside the clashes with Sadr’s militia’s last year there have been very few attacks against British troops during 30 months of their presence in the province and that certainly doesn’t go along with the results shown by the poll or we would have seen daily attacks and violence like we do in Baghdad, Anbar or Mosul, well maybe the results of some provinces got mixed up!

Some might object to my last sentence with something like “Just because it is believed to be justified doesn’t mean that translates into actual attacks themselves”
Well, if it doesn’t mean that this translates into actual attacks then what are we supposed to get from this poll? That Iraqis do not like the British and they want to see them bombed yet they wouldn’t do it? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

And by the way, I almost forgot to tell you this; when Iraqis are performing a poll they tend to do so while trying to keep as low a profile as possible for concerns about being misidentified as spies or intelligence gatherers for the coalition, the terrorists or even the government so they try to interview the first person they meet and think is safe to interview forgetting about all the known standards and requirements of correct sample choosing. This alone is enough to weaken the validity of the poll results.

Bottom line, I will personally ignore the results as a whole as I think it cannot add anything of value to a view of the situation here in Iraq, which is a shame, as it might have done so, had they framed the questions in a more scientific manner. I tend to recommend that you not take it seriously as well for these reasons.


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