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May 20, 2004 8:03 am


More On Polls ...



My colleague, Tim Burke, hosted the longest discussion we've had at Cliopatria with his post, "Twizzle Twazzle Twozzle Twome", about our reactions to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. That discussion led to his subsequent post, "What The Polls Can't Tell You", which has had much less attention. Public opinion polls, Burke suggests, have very limited utility for historians. At most, we tend to look on polling results as data to be viewed skeptically and used very critically. If that is true for us in even the most benign circumstances, our skepticism is enhanced with results arrived at in a nation under fire. Even so, it doesn't mean that polling results should be ignored.

A case in point are the results reported by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies. Its survey of 1600 representative Iraqis reports that over half of them now want allied occupying forces removed from Iraq, as compared with about one-fifth of them taking that position last October. Its report shows the radical young Shia Moqtada al-Sadr as having the strong support of about one-third of Iraqis. For thoughtful reflections on these reports, see Juan Cole and Daniel Drezner.

Meanwhile, there are increasing questions about the circumstances and authenticity of the videotape of the beheading of Nick Berg.

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Richard Henry Morgan - 5/20/2004

I saw the same poll, Ralph, and I think it reflects a recent reality. Polls have their weaknesses, but one of their features is that they leave a record of their methodology, which can be criticized, and if it survives criticism, can give one some measure of confidence in its results.

Reportage seems to me to be rather devoid of methodology, or at least it doesn't reveal its methodology for later checking. Reportage, like much of history, seems to me more of an art -- an art that either just works or it doesn't, and their is no rational reconstruction of its creation (it goes beyond the evidence).

I was watching Nightline last night, and was blown away by an admission in its intro. The guy said (and I've long suspected this) that journalists there seldom venture outside the zone circumscribed by the Green Line, and that's why so many were there for standup interviews following Sivits' court-martial. Knock me over with a feather. Of course, the fact that they've confined themselves largely to the pool deck of the Hilton hasn't stopped them from making broad conclusions about the state of affairs throughout Iraq.

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