Sunday, January 30, 2011

60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll on WikiLeaks

60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll Finds Americans Don’t Like WikiLeaks, If They Know What It Is

A new poll by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair finds that few Americans like WikiLeaks. Only 9 percent view it as a good thing, while 22 percent view it as a treasonous website. 23 percent see the website as destructive, but still legal.

The most surprising thing is perhaps that a whopping 42 percent of Americans don't know what WikiLeaks is.

I have a serious problem with this poll. Tons of research has shown just how easily affected people are when they are asked to respond to a question by a polling agency. Reseach by John Zaller, for example, has argued that what we answer in polls is often the result of the last tidbit of information we receive to sway our views in a given way. When 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair thus decides that they are to include two potential negative responses and only one positive, they may therefore be affecting the result of the poll. The two negative responses may simply reinforce one another and lead towards people picking that answer. This effect may be added to by the fact that the positive answer is relatively "neutral" whereas the negative ones are highly negative.

This is a small issue, but looking at polls over the last month, the same seems to be happening over and over again. There is one positive answer and then there's two negative ones.

Why can't these polling organizations not just ask people what they think of WikLeaks and give them the alternatives "a good thing" and "a bad thing"? That would ensure a scientifically easier data to interpret. Only the headlines would get worse...

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