CNN has released a joint CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll on Barack Obama’s handling of the Iran uprising. The headline screams Americans don’t want to intervene in Iran election crisis, and the write up notes that “nearly three out of four Americans don’t want the U.S. directly intervene in the election crisis in Iran.”
But the question which gave rise to this headline was exceedingly misleading. You wouldn’t know it from the CNN article, only if you went to the actual question and answer data elsewhere. Interestingly, the CNN write-up doesn’t even link to the actual data.
The question at issue was as follows:
“Do you think the U.S. government should openly support the demonstrators who are protesting the recent election in that country, or do you think the U.S. should not directly intervene in the situation in Iran?”
The choices in answering the question were “Openly Support [24%],” “Not Directly Intervene [74%],” or “Unsure [1%].” These are false choices designed to elicit the resulting response.
By using a positive in the first answer, but a negative in the second, the question suggested that “open support” constituted “direct intervention” even though there are means of open support (such as diplomacy with allies, etc.) which are not necessarily “intervention.” Also, after our Iraq experience, it is not surprising that a majority do not want direct intervention, which connotes military steps designed to help the opposition, as a result of election fraud. Indeed, another question in the poll as to whether “the U.S. government should or should not take any military action against Iran” elicits similarly strong opposition [84%] to military action. A question on whether the “U.S. should or should not take any economic or diplomatic action against Iran” yields a much more even response [42% yes, 54% no].
So CNN set up the choice between “open support” and possible military intervention in its headline question, which likely caused many participants to shy away from the first choice. [Added] Despite this obvious deception in the poll, Obama supporters are using the poll as proof that the “U.S. position on Iran enjoys support,” that “Obama does what Americans want.” and that the “public stands with Obama, not Cons, on Iran.” Mission accomplished.
What if the choices were “open non-military support,” “direct military intervention” or “do nothing at all?” I suspect the result would have differed substantially, with a clear majority in favor of open non-military support.
This is just one example of how polls can be misleading, particularly when the data is not included or even linked in the write-up.