March 10, 2006
Bogus Poll on U.S. Military in Iraq
For anyone following the Iraq war, now may be the time to take
off those rose-colored glasses. According to a recent Zogby poll,
72 percent of U.S. troops say it's time to withdraw from Iraq.
Another stunner is that only three in five soldiers in Iraq have
a clear sense of the mission. Ouch!
wide range of opinions and loud voices about America's role in
Iraq, there's a real hunger for authenticity that only the troops
on the ground can provide. As a veteran, I have been hoping that
a pollster would take the obvious step of asking our troops for
their opinions, and I think Zogby International deserves credit
for making the effort.
But as an
economist, my appreciation eroded sharply when I took a closer
contains 24 questions. It was given secretly during late January
and early February to an unknown number of American troops serving
in Iraq, although we are told that 944 respondents were included.
If all the guidelines for random sampling were met (they weren't),
the reported margin of error would be plus or minus 3.3 percent.
flaw in Zogby's survey is the biased phrasing of its questions
and answers. Two of the most provocative results are based on
questions with no middle ground. It's like a multiple-choice test
with no right answers.
the widespread finding that three in four soldiers think the United
States should withdraw from Iraq within a year has only one option
for troops who think otherwise: stay indefinitely. This infamous
question asks, "How long should U.S. troops stay in Iraq?"
But the first three answers are not phrased in terms of staying,
they are phrased "withdraw...," "withdraw..."
and "withdraw... ." Where are the options for troops
who think the United States should stay for "one to two years"
or "two to five years"? Zogby omits such nuance. It's
stay or go. Now or never.
troops who perceived this false choice probably set the clipboard
down and walked away at that point. That leaves us with a biased
asks for a description of "your understanding of the U.S.
mission in Iraq." Two choices describe the mission as clear,
and four choices describe it as unclear.
John Zogby himself misrepresented the phrasing of one of the questions
in an op-ed. This may seem like nitpicking, but if half a man's
family say they want "chicken" for dinner, and he reports
those votes as "nonvegetarian," he is not exactly being
honest. In just this way, the poll asked the soldiers to rate
seven different "reasons for the Iraq invasion." It
is a question about prewar justification, not the postwar occupation.
Yet Zogby described their answers as a description of "the
U.S. mission." If that's the question he wanted to ask, he
should have asked it that way. Polling is a science. Words matter.
question we should all be asking Zogby is not about the questions
that were included, but about those that weren't. Nowhere in the
survey results do we see assessments of the U.S. mission. Has
it been a success or a failure? How so? Nowhere do we see questions
about morale, about progress in killing terrorists, about the
state of the insurgency, about the prospects for democracy and
economic growth in Iraq. There are questions aplenty on napalm,
interrogation, and (I'm not kidding) doubling the number of bombing
dare to ask anything that might result in good news?
Keep in mind
that the men and women in uniform are limited by law from making
political statements. If troops are given a chance to express
themselves anonymously and fairly, that's great. They are probably
the best barometer of how the mission is going, and how it can
be improved. But this Zogby poll isn't a barometer. It is (a)
biased, (b) dishonest, or (c) all of the above.
those options? Neither do I. But that's all they gave us.
thankful that Zogby made this effort, and I hope they will try
again in a manner that is (d) insightful, (e) comprehensive, and
maybe even (f) irrefutably profound.
is an economist and Bradley Fellow in the Center for Data Analysis
at the Heritage Foundation, and a veteran Air Force officer.