Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
Two recent opinion polls, one done by the Zogby group looking at 600 residents from four Iraqi cities, and another done of 1200 residents of Baghdad, have been trumpeted by Bush administration officials and by Rightwing rags like the National Review as containing good news for the US. The officials and rightwing journalists’ use of these polls, however, has been sloppy and inaccurate, and a glance at the actual results does not suggest a rosy picture, according to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post. Pincus notes, “countrywide, only 33 percent thought they were better off than they were before the invasion and 47 percent said they were worse off. And 94 percent said that Baghdad was a more dangerous place for them to live, a finding the administration officials did not discuss. The poll also found that 29 percent of Baghdad residents had a favorable view of the United States, while 44 percent had a negative view. By comparison, 55 percent had a favorable view of France.”
The situation is even worse than Pincus suggests. For instance, on Sept. 14 on Meet the Press, US Vice President Dick Cheney alleged that Iraqis “including the Shia population” reject an Islamic government by a two-to-one margin. This finding was based on the four-city poll. But only one of the four cities was largely Shiite (Basra), which in my view skewed the results. (Basra has a relatively secular political tradition). The 2 or 3 million poor, relatively theocratic Shiites of East Baghdad were left out of the picture altogether, along with pious Shiites in Najaf and Karbala. If you add them in, the support for an Islamic Republic would go way up. And, it is not clear if the pollsters made the distinction between implementing Islamic law and rule by Muslim clerics. Probably only a third of Iraqis would want the latter. But a lot more probably want Islamic law. Pincus notes that 50% of Iraqis think US-style democracy would not work very well. The US administration shouldn’t become convinced by this kind of shaky data that Iraqis are happy with the US occupation or want the kind of government that the US intends to impose.