Saturday, September 28, 2013

Those Bogus Pro-Assad Polls

Listening to NPR's Diane Rehm show on Friday, I heard a caller claim that a poll has shown that 70 percent of Syrians support Bashar Assad. Regrettably, none of the experts on the show had enough knowledge or guts to refute this claim which has gotten wide circulation on Facebook and the internet. After all,  Syria, like most police states doesn't allow independent polls.

The 70 percent figure has been pushed hard by the official Iranian Press TV.

An opinion poll, conducted by the US daily news service World Tribune, shows that 70 percent of Syrians support President Bashar al-Assad, 20 percent say they do not support either side involved in the ongoing unrest in the country, and only 10 percent back the opposition. 
Big problem. Not only is the World Tribune a shadowy, obscure, web publication, but it clearly states it did not conduct a poll.

The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts. (emphasis added)
The World Tribune report is nearly totally unsourced.  It says "a Western source familiar with the data," but it headlines misleadingly says "NATO Data"  It describes "data, relayed to NATO" and a "report to NATO," but gives no real reason to think that NATO took the report seriously.

 Should World Tribune be taken seriously?  Look at their ties.
The following World content partners have both contributed articles and columns and have helped alert the worldwide web to its exclusive reports: Middle East Newsline The Washington Times Hoover Institution Hudson Institute Int. Strat. Studies Assoc.
 Moreover, as recently as July 2013, World Tribune reported that "Forensic findings on Obama’s birth certificate: ‘A 100 percent forgery, no doubt about it." A crazy, birther site isn't one that should believed by anyone, particularly by anyone on the left.

The Flawed 55 Percent Poll 

It is more modestly claimed that 55 percent of Syrians support Assad by Ed Hussain in the New York Times, Jonathon Steele in the Guardian,  Al Jazeera (in Arabic), Iranian owned Press TV, and Syrian news sites.  In this case, the number does come from a real poll,but the poll cannot bear the weight of showing that Assad has the support of most Syrians that has been placed on it.

Charlotte McDonald of the BBC points out that while YouGov poll interviewed 1000 people in 18 Middle Eastern countries, only 98 were from Syria.
This is a very low sample according to the managing director of survey company ORB, Johnny Heald, who has been carrying out polls in the Middle East for many years.

"When we poll and we want to find out what Libyans think, or what Syrians think, we would rarely do anything less than 1,000 interviews," he says.
"One thousand is the generally accepted industry minimum to be able to speak confidently about what people from a particular country think about an issue.

"If you say that this poll covers people from 18 countries, then that's fine. But you need to be very careful when you interpret the findings.

"It is not good to say that 55% of Syrians, for example, think that Assad should stay when only 97 people were asked that question."
YouGov's Sept 2013 Poll

YouGov, the British based internet polling, recently  released the results of a poll of 835 Syrians and found
 248 supporters of the Assad regime, 152 opponents and a larger number who support neither side or prefer not to tell us
In percentages, just under 30 percent support Assad and 18 percent oppose.

YouGuv notes
This is not a representative sample: three-quarters are male, over half are under 30 years old, and just under 50 percent say they have a university degree.
So, when we finally get to a poll that has some, limited validity, support for Assad is about half of the claimed 70 percent.

Pepperdine's Secret Survey of Syrian Public Opinion

Next up is a poll that has polar opposite results to the non-existent 70 percent pro-Assad poll, but not without its own problems.

Pepperdine University conducted secret surveys in Syria in 2010 and 2011. Here is an article which describes how their guerrilla polling was done.  The results of the 2011 survey were summarized this way.
Eight out of ten Syrians surveyed want to see regime change and won't be satisfied with mere reform, according to analysis by Angela Hawken, associate professor of economics and policy analysis at the School of Public Policy (SPP), of interviews done for the Democracy Council of California.

That latest "secret survey" results reflect face-to-face interviews with 551 Syrians collected between August 24 and September 2, 2011, despite an official ban on public opinion gathering. An earlier effort took place in January and February of 2010. "The most surprising thing about these results is that they could be collected in the first place," explains Hawken.

James Prince, President of the Democracy Council and a leading expert on Arab civil society, says, "This survey further illustrates the deep-seated angst felt by most Syrians. The Syrian people do not have confidence in the Assad regime. They no longer want to live in the Baath security state. As in other regional countries, the Syrians are fed up with the corruption, nepotism, and lack of opportunity in Syria. The people are searching for alternatives to Assad."
Elizabeth Buckner, a PhD Candidate at Stanford University, however,  raises serious questions about the scientific flaws and political biases of the Pepperdine study here and here.

In sum, there is a flawed poll to go with whatever your position on Syria. 

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