Liberia in the Polls (was RE: Is Bush's support imploding?)

Jose G. Perez jgperez at netzero.net
Sat Jul 12 22:34:22 MDT 2003


Mark Lause has provided us with a very instructive example of how the
bourgeois news media invents "public opinion" and fabricates "news" out
of whole cloth.

Mark repeats the claim of the Gallup organization that "American public
support for intervention in Liberia remains strong," but apparently
instinctively recognizing the absurdity of the claim, can't help but
add, "though I'd not bet much that those who want to intervene there
could find it on a globe with both hands."

A just released Gallup poll insists that "Americans Favor U.S.
Peacekeeping Force in Liberia," an assertion that, to my mind, doesn't
even pass the giggle test. 

When was the last time ANY of us heard "normal" people say *anything*
about Liberia in this country? Hell, I work in a newsroom, a newsroom
full of non-Americans who actually *know* where Liberia is and WE don't
talk about it or give it a second thought (which raises the very
interesting question of why then do we put it into our newscasts, but
that is another story).

Anyways if you go to http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr030711.asp,
you will see it very solemnly asserted that by a margin of 57% to 36%,
Americans favor sending ground troops to Liberia, with only 7% unsure.

The result is all the more surprising because in the very same poll
Gallup asks people whether they have the first clue about Liberia, and a
clear majority answers, NO. The form of the question was  "How closely
would you say you have followed the news about the current situation in
the African country of Liberia -- very closely, somewhat closely, not
too closely, or not at all?"

Twenty-four percent admit they don't follow it *at all*, 29 percent that
they follow it "not too closely." 

Thirty-seven percent claim to be following it "somewhat closely" and a
full 10 percent insist they are following it very closely, although both
of these groups are lying, of course.

I happen to know that for a FACT, because as some of you know, I work
for a world famous three-letter news organization that has one of the
most frequented news web sites. And our web stats tell us how many
people visit, how many read a particular story, etc. One of the
advantages of the Internet over TV or newspapers. 

For the week ended July 6, only one Liberia story made it into the top
200 stories for the week, and it managed to attract only 1% of the users
visiting the site that day. I've checked the individual days since then,
the week that Bush has been in Africa, and significantly less than 1% of
the site's visitors read the Liberia stories. 

Mind you, this is NOT a sample of the American population. This is a
sample of the perhaps 20 or 40 million people who follow news most
closely, and most especially the news junkies. Of THOSE, the 10 or 20 or
30 percent most news conscious, at most 1% were following the story
"somewhat closely." 

Why did people lie to Gallup? In this case, I don't know for sure. But
many people tend to tell the interviewer the answers they think they're
expected to provide. Gallup didn't print the questions that came before
the Liberia ones, but I suspect they were about Bush's trip to Africa.
And you've been opining and so on. And then they ask, in effect, do you
know the first fucking thing about Liberia or have you just been blowing
smoke up my ass? And half the people say, yeah, blowing smoke. Actually
about a quarter probably at first thought they were talking about that
guy with the candelabra that died a few years ago, and Gallup knew it,
that's why they made sure to say "the African country of Liberia". But
the others, they remembered a headline or two, and 10% read about how
Bush was concerned in some article on his trip, so they figured, hey,
close enough for "closely."

So if more than half the population admit to knowing next to nothing or
absolutely nothing about what's going on in Liberia, and the nearly half
that claim to know at least a little about it are mostly lying, how come
93% have a firm opinion about sending the troops? 

Because Gallup gave the people polled through the wording of the
question the criteria they should use for answering. And --knowing the
general ideological outlook of the kind of people it surveys-- whether
consciously or unconsciously, Gallup crafted a question that would
surely evoke a majority affirmative response that would be seen as
supportive of the President's ostensible foreign policy stance.

The question was:

"Would you favor or oppose the presence of U.S. ground troops, along
with troops from other countries, in an international peacekeeping force
in Liberia?"

Let's deconstruct the question. First, what is not said. It doesn't say
Liberia is a country in the middle of a civil war, with people are
getting killed all the time. It doesn't say that the "peacekeeping"
force is a military combat force to intervene in this war and is part of
a maneuver to force out the current ruler. "Peacekeeping" in an entirely
Orwellian term, when you think about it, when applied to a military
combat force about to be sent to a country in the middle of a war.

But "peacekeeping" and "along with ... other countries" creates a very
soothing message. A boy scout mission. Rescue kittens from the trees,
help kids cross the street to get to their school, that sort of thing.
Blessed by the UN ("peacekeeping" has that association).
Noncontroversial ("other countries" are coming too, this isn't like
Iraq, everyone is cool with it). 

Were you to ask the same question about Upper Timor, Parador, or Altair
VI, you'd get pretty much the same result.

Imagine stripping the clues on how to answer from the question, and
formulating the don't know response in a way that says it is okay to say
you're clueless: 

"Would you favor or oppose the presence of U.S. ground troops as part of
an international combat force to stop the civil war in Liberia?"

Yes 
No
I don't really know enough about Liberia to have a firm opinion.

Now imagine one more choice:

Absolutely not. The United States is an imperialist country whose
military interventions always end up hurting Third World people. 

And this one:

The United States should not send troops but create an international
fund of $10 billion under the control of the Non-Aligned Movement [or
the OAU, or the Group of 77] to promote peace in Liberia. If Liberia
desires international assistance of other countries in helping to
reestablish peace, it should seek the aid of countries like Cuba and
figures like Nelson Mandela, with their participation and the measures
they suggest financed from that fund.

Or even this one:

We should pretend to be concerned but let the war rage for as long as
possible. Africans killing Africans means less for us to do in the end.
In the meantime, we should turn a blind eye to American firms profiting
from gun running to both sides.

That last one, by the way, is the one that reflects actual U.S. policy,
on the ground. It is not, of course, offered by Gallup as a choice. 

Gallup's question and the answer choices it provides, are all part of a
ruling class operation not to "probe" public opinion, which, around
Liberia, simply *does not exist* but to create it, or rather, create the
illusion that such opinion exists and that it supports Bush.

Now, the fact that the only options for answers are entirely within a
bourgeois-imperialist ideological framework is probably quite
unconscious. 

But we should understand that the basic scam is totally conscious. 

The director of polling behind this poll knows how to create what is
considered a valid poll (by bourgeois standards). You get a "panel" and
ask its members whether they have any opinion about Liberia. You ask the
panel members what those opinions are. On that basis you then formulate
the questions for the actual poll. 

The first question would be something like "Do you have any opinion on
what the United States should do about the situation in Liberia?"

To those that answer yes, then you say, thinking about the opinion you
already have about what the United States should do in relation to
Liberia, which of the following statements comes closest to your own
view:

The United States should send troops to stop the civil war.
The United States should send troops to stop the civil war together with
other countries.
The United States should offer economic and humanitarian assistance to
the population through the United Nations
[or whatever choices emerged from the panel]
None of the above.

The director of polling didn't order the poll done this way because it
isn't "news." It would show overwhelmingly most people don't know much
about Liberia and don't have any opinion about what the United States
should do there at all. And the news director or managing editor would
skin the polling director alive for wasting the news organization's
polling money.

The fifty-some percent that said yes are mostly well meaning people who
think the United States should HELP poor countries, and together with
the UN and places like France, England, Germany and Japan, give the less
fortunate a hand. There will be of course, some conscious imperialists,
but few.

The 36% who are opposed are various types. People who understand that
the United States will NOT help in Liberia, only hurt -- people like us.
People who know there is a civil war in Liberia and think right now the
U.S. military's plate is pretty full. And then right wing isolationists,
flat earthers worried about the invasion fleet falling off the edge and
similar types. 

And finally the 7% who in reality represent the 90% plus of the American
people that haven't given a second thought to whether or not the U.S.
should do something about the situation in Liberia because they don't
know what Liberia is, they don't know where it is, and they've got no
clue what "situation" Gallup is referring to.

When you stop to think about it, you've got to admire the Chutzpah of
David W. Moore of the "GALLUP NEWS SERVICE" claiming "the American
people this" and "the American people that" when he knows damn well,
because the results of his question about how closely people follow
Liberia tell him this, that it is all lies. 

The whole Gallup piece is worth reading because they weave this
bullshit, nonexistent support for intervening in Liberia into a whole
narrative about Americans supporting intervening abroad, including in
Iraq. First they ask about a boy scout mission Hiberia or whatever that
place is, then they get RIGHT into questions about U.S. Troops in Iraq.
And, of course, they don't give you the option of saying get out of
Iraq, the choices are: send more troops; keep the same number; bring
some home. U.S. out isn't an option.

José




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