Pollster Claims Surge in Support for OccupationMarch 17th, 2008

I heard Andrew Kohut, who claims to be an assessor of public opinion, tell an NPR audience today that the trend is in favor of support for the occupation (which he calls “war”) both here and in Iraq. “The Surge,” as Kohut refers to the extension of soldiers’ deployments, seems to be working, at least in terms of public relations.

Kohut wasn’t asked what procedures are in place for polling people in Iraq, where Kohut claims there is widespread support for the occupation. It seems as if we should be suspicious of any survey findings from Iraq, where it’s too dangerous for door-to-door polling, and a fourth of the population has been displaced by violence. This report didn’t even raise the issue of reliability but took Kohut’s assertions as if they were objective facts. Kohut did acknowledge that most of the polling data were coming from Baghdad, but he didn’t suggest that this should in any way undermine confidence in the data, which he was using to justify the military occupation.

Kohut wasn’t asked about the importance of media censorship on domestic opinion. For example, he could have been asked whether the refusal of any major news organization to cover the Winter Soldier conference of this past weekend might have an effect on polling. He could have been asked how much Americans actually know about what’s happening Iraq, but he wasn’t.  He probably wouldn’t have given a coherent answer, because pollsters don’t sample people’s knowledge, only their opinions. To the pollster, uninformed opinion is no different from informed opinion.

Kohut’s agenda is to sell survey data, not to measure public opinion, and a responsible journalist would remind listeners of that every so often, but there are no responsible journalists in the public radio family. There are only famous voices, and they don’t dispense facts.