NY Times Previews Next Wave in Public Opinion Manipulation

Tired of public opinion polls? Well, an article in today’s New York Times might be an indication that Americans have seen enough polls in the past three months, and that a new strategy is necessary to inform them how to think. How does it work? Well, instead of releasing data that supposedly represents a statistical picture of the nation’s views on a subject, make the data significantly more real by putting names and faces to the numbers.

The article in question, entitled “Even Supporters Doubt President as Issues Pile Up,” effectively introduced this strategy in its first four paragraphs:

“Leesa Martin never considered President Bush a great leader, but she voted for him a year ago because she admired how he handled the terrorist attacks of 2001.

“Then came the past summer, when the death toll from the war in Iraq hit this state particularly hard: 16 marines from the same battalion killed in one week. She thought the federal government should have acted faster to help after Hurricane Katrina. She was baffled by the president's nomination of Harriet E. Miers, a woman she considered unqualified for the Supreme Court, and disappointed when he did not nominate another woman after Ms. Miers withdrew.

“And she remains unsettled by questions about whether the White House leaked the name of a C.I.A. agent whose husband had accused the president of misleading the country about the intelligence that led to the war.

“‘I don't know if it's any one thing as much as it is everything,’ said Ms. Martin, 49, eating lunch at the North Market, on the edge of downtown Columbus. ‘It's kind of snowballed.’"

One of the beauties of “polling” in this fashion is that you can reduce your sample size even further – in this case, only 75 people were questioned. And, since it’s not a poll, you don’t have to present the methodology of how the respondents were chosen -- what party they are registered with, etc. In effect, this makes it even easier to create a sample that is likely to give the answers you’re looking to receive without the requirement of providing the reader with that information.

Another benefit is that you’re quoting “real Americans” rather than political insiders or strategists. As such, their opinions theoretically have more value as they lack the obvious partiality of someone who is working for one of the country’s major political parties.

Yet, maybe most interesting were the opinions of the interviewee who pointed out just how powerful propaganda can be:

“‘We keep hearing about suicide bombers and casualties and never hear about any progress being made,’ said Dave Panici, 45, a railroad conductor from Bradley, Ill. ‘I don't see an end to it; it just seems relentless. I feel like our country is just staying afloat, just treading water instead of swimming toward somewhere.’

“Mr. Panici voted for President Bush in 2004, calling it ‘a vote for security.’ ‘Now that a year has passed, I haven't seen any improvement in Iraq,’ he said.”

And therein lies the real point: As Americans like Mr. Panici have largely only seen the darkest possible side of what is going on in Iraq with all the negative reporting on the incursion, how could they possibly see an improvement?

Foreign Policy Iraq Political Scandals Political Groups War on Terrorism 9/11 Valerie Plame Disclosure Polling New York Times
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