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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CNN's Misleading Iran Poll

CNN has released a joint CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll on Barack Obama's handling of the Iran uprising. The headline screams Americans don't want to intervene in Iran election crisis, and the write up notes that "nearly three out of four Americans don't want the U.S. directly intervene in the election crisis in Iran."

But the question which gave rise to this headline was exceedingly misleading. You wouldn't know it from the CNN article, only if you went to the actual question and answer data elsewhere. Interestingly, the CNN write-up doesn't even link to the actual data.

The question at issue was as follows:

"Do you think the U.S. government should openly support the demonstrators who are protesting the recent election in that country, or do you think the U.S. should not directly intervene in the situation in Iran?"
The choices in answering the question were "Openly Support [24%]," "Not Directly Intervene [74%]," or "Unsure [1%]." These are false choices designed to elicit the resulting response.

By using a positive in the first answer, but a negative in the second, the question suggested that "open support" constituted "direct intervention" even though there are means of open support (such as diplomacy with allies, etc.) which are not necessarily "intervention." Also, after our Iraq experience, it is not surprising that a majority do not want direct intervention, which connotes military steps designed to help the opposition, as a result of election fraud. Indeed, another question in the poll as to whether "the U.S. government should or should not take any military action against Iran" elicits similarly strong opposition [84%] to military action. A question on whether the "U.S. should or should not take any economic or diplomatic action against Iran" yields a much more even response [42% yes, 54% no].

So CNN set up the choice between "open support" and possible military intervention in its headline question, which likely caused many participants to shy away from the first choice. [Added] Despite this obvious deception in the poll, Obama supporters are using the poll as proof that the "U.S. position on Iran enjoys support," that "Obama does what Americans want." and that the "public stands with Obama, not Cons, on Iran." Mission accomplished.

What if the choices were "open non-military support," "direct military intervention" or "do nothing at all?" I suspect the result would have differed substantially, with a clear majority in favor of open non-military support.

This is just one example of how polls can be misleading, particularly when the data is not included or even linked in the write-up.

Related Posts:
"Heads They Win, Tails We Lose" Diplomacy
Remember "Ahmadinejad Won. Get Over It."
He Who Cannot Stop Talking, Is Silent On Iran

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  1. mmm, isn't catching loaded liberal polls like shooting fish in a barrel?

  2. I've got an idea for a poll: "Who should be in charge of rationing your health care: you or the government?"

  3. You're 100% right, Professor, that the way a question is framed is the whole ballgame in polling -- and many media-sponsored polls go out of their way to frame questions that will yield the results they'd prefer.

    The obvious question to poll -- the question that has dominated most news coverage and commentary of the Iran protests -- is something like this:

    "In light of the mass protests in Iran and the Iranian government's crack down on the protesters, should President Obama...

    -- Continue to pursue friendlier relations with the Iranian regime through negotiations without conditions...

    -- Join with American allies in pursuing additional sanctions against the Iranian government for its actions, even if that means negotiations will have to wait...

    -- Intervene directly in Iran, with military force if necessary, to support the anti-regime protesters.

    I'm betting that a majority of Americans would choose the middle course -- which would be a repudation of Obama's policy, at least insofar as he's announced a policy to date.

  4. This doesn't surprise me anymore than the prez's first strong response to an international situation. Isn't it funny he reacts strongly when a Supreme Court and Congress enlist the military to stop a President that is trying to ignore the law and act in the best interests of their government and their people? I was disgusted to hear the prez align himself with the likes of Hugo Chavez and the Castro's.

  5. CNN, misleading poll?
    Surely you jest.