The Infallible Opinion Poll

Many of us have never been polled by a national news organization. Almost all of us have, however, over the years, read results of hundreds, if not thousands, of opinion polls. It seems no one in America can escape being bombarded by opinion polls, which are presented to us as accurate representations of what “we” think.

I am almost always struck by how much the reported opinions of my fellow Americans seem to diverge from my own perspective. In fact, I can’t recall a single poll which led me to conclude that my thinking was consistent with what corporate media says Americans think about a given issue.

I take it as self evident that this is because the primary function of corporate media is not to report news, but is instead to influence and direct public opinion and behavior to serve corporate interests. The ‘opinion poll’ is arguably one of the most effective tools ever devised for manipulation of public perception, and therefore, by extension, controlling social behavior and setting political agenda. Carefully contrived polls can plant thoughts and opinions in people’s minds that are contrary to their own interests, leaving them with the impression that these implanted thoughts are their own opinions.

One recent poll, conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post, concluded that a majority of Americans favor use of nuclear weapons against Iraq. The article, as it appeared in the Washington Post, was called “Most Favor Nuclear Option Against Iraq.” The same article appeared in my local Santa Rosa (California) Press Democrat, under the title “Nuclear Retaliation on Iraq Favored.”

The article, of course, did not explain that the poll was expressly designed to create the false impression that Americans want to use nukes against Iraq, but that much was obvious upon reading about it. The exact questions which were asked were not reprinted. But it was apparent from the article, that Americans would “favor” a first strike using nuclear weapons only in “retaliation” after Iraq “attacked” our troops, using chemical or biological agents.

Imagine, for a moment, that you don’t like my Dad, and that I suspect sometime, somewhere, you might be going to do something bad. Furthermore, I know that someone who is known to hate you, and with whom you do not associate, has already done something really bad. I suspect that, despite your mutual animosity, the two of you may team up and do something really, really bad. Therefore, I initiate a confrontation with you by pre-emptively bashing you in the face with a right hook. You respond with a left jab. Would it then be fair, accurate and reasonable for me to describe my next blow as a “retaliation” for your “attack?” Through this type of deliberate manipulation of language, pollsters can redefine words to convey the meaning of their polar opposites.

The first step for these particular pollsters, was to manipulate language to obtain the conditional ‘result’ that they wanted. The next step, was to announce the result in a headline that implied that it was an absolute, and not a conditional result. Here is an analogy to illustrate this. Imagine a poll which asks this question: “If you came home to find your neighbor raping and attempting to murder your wife, would you shoot your neighbor in the head, if that was the only way to save your wife?” Seizing the inevitable result of a question framed this way, we could then craft the headline “Most Americans Favor Shooting Their Neighbors in the Head.”

But beneath this analysis is an even more fundamental question. Good scientists understand that the very act of trying to observe something can radically alter the type and quality of data gathered. This is why a scientist that wants to observe gorillas in the wild might try to conceal herself, or to wear a really convincing gorilla suit, when she is in the presence of gorillas that she wants to observe. Otherwise, she will only be observing the way gorillas behave in response to the presence of an intruder. This would preclude any possibility of observing ‘natural’ gorilla behavior.

For the statement that “most Americans favor use of nuclear weapons against Iraq” to be an accurate reflection of “our” opinion, it is necessary that the idea itself must have arisen out of spontaneous discussions and debates amongst our informed citizenry, as opposed to its having been planted by pollsters and government officials who are trying to manufacture consent to initiate violence. Otherwise, to even ask the question is like forgetting to put on the gorilla suit. For their purposes, the good folks at ABC News and the Washington Post would like us to believe that the question of whether or not to annihilate Iraq with nuclear weapons, is a major topic of discussion in cafes, bars and truck stops throughout America.

This is an implication that pollsters who create such tripe, must really hope that we will not examine. I can imagine two “regular guys” in Americas’ mythical heartland, (we’ll call them Lester and Homer) engaged in a serious debate on this issue:

Lester: “Homer, our President is proposing that we violate international law with a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq that is not sanctioned or approved by the U.N. If Saddam still has viable chemical weapons that US corporations, fronted by Donald Rumsfeld, sold them in the 80s, and if Iraq responds to our aggression by using those weapons, do you think we should unleash a first strike nuclear attack in order to incinerate Iraq and send the nations of the world the message that Americans are completely insane?”

Homer: “Geez Lester, you said a mouthful. I’ll tell you what- you and I both know that detonation of a nuclear device means that plutonium and strontium 90, two of the most deadly radioisotopes known to humanity, would be released in prodigious quantities. Therefore, in addition to the probability that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, including women and children, would be instantly incinerated, our troops will be exposed to dangerous or even deadly levels of radioactivity. We also know without question, that a radioactive cloud would then enter the stratosphere and travel around the globe. The resulting fallout will poison everyone in its’ path, causing cancer and birth defects worldwide, including right here in America. And of course, there is the fact that there is no military necessity whatsoever to even warrant consideration of the use of nuclear weapons, so I don’t know”

Lester: “Right you are, Homer. And if you add to that equation that doing this could destabilize the entire Middle East, possibly resulting in a nuclear conflagration when nations like Pakistan and India, or North Korea, react, it is clear that we had better think this through.”

Homer: “I’m with you Lester. Did you know Saddam gassed his own people?”

Lester: “Yep, Homer, I sure did hear that. And that is the primary reason why I’m inclined to support a vicious attack against everyone in Iraq, using nuclear weapons on a first strike basis. Saddam is a really, really bad man.”

Homer: “Then we’re agreed. Let’s nuke ’em.”

For months now, corporate media, basing their claims on the ‘latest poll results,’ has been telling us that a majority of Americans support war. This ‘result’ is always announced first, before it is revealed that Americans actually don’t support war at all if the U.N. cannot be manipulated into appearing to support it. Since it now seems unlikely that the Bush administration will be able to convince the entire world to bow to US imperialism, and since millions of people here and abroad are demonstrating against this war, I think it might be time for American media to simply admit that a majority of Americans do not want war with Iraq. But I am not holding my breath in the hope that ABC, Washington Post, FOX, New York Times, etc. will reveal that the latest poll confirms this fact.

I am not content, however, to hide my head in the sand, and ignore the threat that a manipulative corporate media poses to my security, and to the security of the world. I cannot afford to wait for corporate pollsters to craft questions which bear on real issues. Therefore, I have created my own pre-emptive poll to counter this threat. The poll is manipulative, it displays flagrant bias, and its’ questions were carefully crafted to obtain a specific result that supports a political agenda. In these respects, it is identical to most polls conducted by corporate media in America.

This poll was conducted on February 20, 2003. It had a sample of one, and a zero percent margin of error, because I already knew what I was thinking when I created it. All respondents are best described as white males, and musicians. However, all respondents were born in Mississippi, grew up in the south, and spent years banging nails into lumber for a living, alongside guys that drove Chevy and Ford pickup trucks and drank Budweiser beer. In addition, all respondents have a wife, an ex-wife, a mother, a sister in law, and two children, including a teenage daughter, and all of these women agree with the political views of the respondent. So don’t even think for a minute that the poll results don’t accurately represent the views of level headed, ‘family values’ middle Americans from the mythical heartland.

To confirm the absolutely unquestionable integrity and validity of poll results, all questions and possible responses are reprinted, along with the instructions that accompanied the original poll. In some cases, responses have been subjected to editorial analysis, in order that readers may get a more accurate sense of the meaning I want them to derive from the results.

Instructions: Read each question carefully and select the letter next to the answer that best reflects the political agenda that I want to promote. (After each question, the poll results are noted, and percentages posted reflect the range of response)

Question 1. Since it is now apparent to America and the world that Bush and his entire Administration are thoroughly corrupt, have seized power illegitimately, and are responsive only to the desires of the richest Americans and to corporate interests, to the detriment of average Americans in the mythical heartland, what is to be done about it?

A. Impeach Bush

B. Impeach Bush, and his entire administration

C. Impeach Bush, and his entire administration, and throw them into federal prison.

D. Impeach Bush, and his entire administration, and throw them into federal prison only after pretending to give them a fair trial like the one that convicted Ed Rosenthal.

E. Impeach Bush, and his entire administration, and throw them into tiny cells in the hot sun at Guantanamo, deny them access to counsel, declare them enemy combatants, subject them to military tribunal, strip them of their citizenship, and deport them to Afghanistan.

Result-100% of respondents chose option D. (Editors note: Unanimous selection of option D proves that Americans really are a peace loving people, and that even when offered a retaliatory and vindictive option, they will choose what appears to be justice, over revenge.)

Question 2. Do you think public policy should be determined in secret solely through consultation with self-interested corporate thieves, as oilman Dick Cheney did with his absurd ‘energy task force?’ Do you further believe that average Americans should have no right to influence national energy policy, or even to know which corporate thieves formulated it?

A. No way. Do you think the American people are idiots? This is what is called a ‘no brainer.’ The only question here is why no pollsters have asked this question before now.

Result: 100% of respondents selected option A. (Editors note: It was the obvious choice.)

Question 3. Do you support a continued and ever-increasing reliance on computerized voting machines that use proprietary software, which means that the accuracy vote counts cannot be independently verified? Do you support use of public funds to purchase voting machines which are manufactured in Nebraska by a corporation with close ties to the Republican Party, where Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel supposedly ‘won’ the last election with 83% of the vote? Do you think it appropriate that Hagel did not bother to disclose his own financial ties to the company which counted the votes in his own election?

A. Yes

B. No, and I further believe that these allegations should be investigated. All election results should be independently verifiable. Otherwise we will have a repeat of the election scam in Florida that disgraced all of America, handed the reigns of power in this country over to war mongering psychopaths, and eviscerated democracy itself.

Result: 100% of respondents selected option B.

Question 4. Do you think corporations should be immediately barred from exerting any influence whatsoever on public policy or elections, thereby negating their terminally corrupting influence on our democracy?

A. Absolutely

B. Without question

C. Definitely, and as soon as possible

D. Yeah, otherwise they will always find new and clever ways to screw us

Result: 100% of respondents selected options A, B, C, and D.

Question 5. How did you react to all those independently produced homemade posters at the Feb.16th anti-war demonstration in San Francisco, depicting Bush with a Hitler moustache, and wearing swastika patches on his sleeve?

A. As a proud American who is determined to maintain an uncritical respect for authority figures, I was appalled.

B. As a Christian, I was stunned. I am willing to accept any and all violations of Christian doctrine, including violation of Rule No. 1- “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” provided the President claims to be a Christian. I am not bothered in the least by the fact that Hitler also claimed to be a good Christian.

C. Given the nature and scope of Bush’s crimes, his fear mongering, his extensive use of ultra-nationalist rhetoric, his racist assault on the rights of foreign born citizens, and his manipulative control of a compliant media to consolidate his power and frighten citizens into conformity and acceptance of his bizarre agenda, I thought comparing him to Hitler was entirely appropriate.

Result: 100% of respondents chose option C. (Editors note: This unequivocal response verifies the appropriateness of this proposed headline, which would announce the results of the poll: “Overwhelming Majority of Americans Think Bush is a Goose-Stepping Fascist Maniac.”)

PAUL DEAN is an activist and bass player with the band Blusion. He lives in Sebastopol, CA. Email: This article first appeared in Dissident Voice .