Poll Attacks
by
George Szamuely
New York Press

6/13/00

In a smug little column in Slate recently, Jacob Weisberg fantasized about a meeting of Washington pundits to decide how much coverage to give to the Buchanan and Nader campaigns. Should they get "Level Two" coverage, reserved for "candidates who can seriously affect the result of an election"? Or "Level Three," for "passionate nutcakes" – worthy of "the odd Saturday feature story" perhaps, but "no day-to-day reportage"? Since the hacks decided that neither candidate would receive 5 percent of the vote, "we opted for Level Three coverage." Weisberg’s humor is lame, but it is very decent of him to let us know ahead of time that he and his chums intend to rig the election. Certainly neither Buchanan nor Nader will get 5 percent. Thanks to Weisberg, hardly anyone will know they are even running.

Presidential candidates need vast fortunes – out of reach to all but those prepared to whore after special interests. Third-party candidates are kept off state ballots by being required to collect a ludicrous number of signatures. Third-party candidates are also kept out of presidential debates. Yet, according to Gallup, 38 percent of Americans consider themselves "independents"; 34 percent Democrats; and 28 percent Republicans.

The two parties, however, make sure no one challenges their monopoly. I have written before about the Commission on Presidential Debates and its insistence that only candidates who enjoy at least 15-percent support in five national polls one week before the debates be allowed to take part in them. The polls are to be conducted by ABC/Washington Post; CBS/New York Times; NBC/Wall Street Journal; CNN/ USA Today/Gallup; and Fox News/ Opinion Dynamics – in other words, by the very organizations that employ Jacob Weisberg and the all-star pundits who, as we already know, have decided that no third-party candidate can possibly get 5 percent of the vote. Now, there is a clear conflict of interest here. The media organizations first marginalize a candidate by ignoring him. Then they run a poll, which confirms their judgment as to his viability. He is kept out of the debate, fails to reach a national audience and ends up with a derisory vote. Jake and his chums can then high-five each other in delight at their splendid clairvoyance. All the while, no one has the bad taste to point out the cozy relationship between the media corporations and the two main parties. The tens of millions that Gore and Bush blow this fall on campaign ads attacking each other will end up in the fat bank accounts of Disney, Time Warner, NewsCorp and General Electric.

Opinion polls are used by elites to control an obstreperous populace. Far from offering a sampling of public opinion on an issue or a candidate, the purpose of a poll is to coerce. People are to be whipped into line by the lure of safety in numbers. Why bother worrying about whom to vote for or what to think about an issue when the majority has already spoken? The candidate who is ahead is obviously the better man, just as the pol in single digits clearly deserves nothing better. Unpopular policies are rammed down a recalcitrant population’s throat through tendentiously posed questions designed to yield the correct results. These are then relayed back to the public so as to silence the doubters. The outstanding example of the method was last year’s bombing of Yugoslavia. Armed aggression against a sovereign country is never popular. In the middle of March, just a few days before the bombing, ABC News and The Washington Post posed the following question: "The United States has said it may bomb Serbia unless Serbia agrees to a peace plan for Kosovo. If Serbia does not agree to the peace plan, should the United States bomb Serbia, or not?" Sixty-two percent of respondents said "No"; 26 percent said "Yes." Clinton went ahead. Soon we were regaled with tales of an upsurge of enthusiasm for sending in the "ground troops."

The question ABC News and The Washington Post asked was carefully crafted to elicit precisely this response: "Suppose the bombing does not stop Serbia’s military action in Kosovo. Would you support or oppose the United States and its European allies sending in ground troops to try to end the conflict in Kosovo?" Fifty-seven percent said they would support it; 39 percent said they would oppose it. Given the dishonesty of the premises of the question, it is surprising the majority was not even larger. On the other hand, when asked, "Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement: It would be worth the loss of some American soldiers’ lives if the United States could help bring peace to Kosovo," 45 percent said it would be worth it, while 52 percent said that it would not be worth it. In other words, the polls the hacks continually trumpet are meaningless, entirely a function of contrived questions.

The most outrageous case of a contrived question to yield a predetermined answer took place a few years ago. An opinion poll, conducted by the Roper Organization on behalf of the American Jewish Committee, allegedly found that 22 percent of Americans doubted that the Holocaust had taken place. There was much hysteria and anguished cries in the media about the supposed triumph of the Holocaust deniers. The trouble was that no one had bothered to look at the question that had elicited that 22 percent figure. It was so convoluted and confusing, it was surprising the figure was not even higher: "Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened" – a question almost totally devoid of meaning. Gallup later reformulated the question and the 22 percent became a mere 1 percent.

Read George Szamuely's Antiwar.com Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

Poll Attacks
6/13/00

Israelís Powerful Friends
6/6/00

Defense Against What?
5/30/00

God Bless Rehnquist!
5/23/00

Long, Hillary Summer
5/16/00

Communicating Power
5/9/00

Law as Ordered
5/2/00

What Threat?
4/25/00

Peculiar Yet Brave
4/18/00

Closed to Debate
4/11/00

Arrogance of Power
4/4/00

Prison Love
3/28/00

Gore's Oil
3/21/00

Rough Justice
3/14/00

Race Race
3/7/00

Al the Coward
2/29/00

Intruder Alert
2/22/00

McCain's Money
2/15/00

Haider Seek
2/13/00

Out of Africa
2/1/00

Prosecute NATO
1/25/00

Villain or Victim?
1/11/00

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment
1/5/00

Home-Grown Terrorism
12/28/99

Who Benefits?
12/21/99

Laws of Return
12/14/99

Embassy Row
12/7/99

Selling Snake Oil
11/30/99

Chinese Puzzle
11/23/99

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times
11/16/99

The Red Tide Turning?
11/9/99

Pat & The Pod
11/2/99

United Fundamentalist States
10/26/99

Let Them All Have Nukes!
10/19/99

Liar, Liar
10/5/99

Gangster Nations
9/21/99

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance
9/14/99

Leave China Alone
9/2/99

A World Safe for Kleptocracy
7/7/99

Proud To Be Un-American
6/23/99

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

If Buchanan and Nader are denied the right to take part in the presidential debates, then we can only hope that, for the sake of democracy, other countries impose sanctions on the United States.

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