Wednesday, June 27. 2007
The Raw Story
A new Newsweek poll out this weekend exposed "gaps" in America's knowledge of history and current events. Perhaps most alarmingly, 41% of Americans answered 'Yes' to the question "Do you think Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?" That total is actually up 5 points since September 2004. Further, a majority of people couldn't identify Saudia Arabia as the country of origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers, even given the question in multiple choice format. 20% answered Iraq, while 14% believed the hijackers came from Iran.
Full numbers at Newsweek. The results of this Princeton Survey Research Associates International poll are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 adults, 18 and older, conducted June 18-19, 2007. "Results are weighted so that the sample demographics match Census Current Population Survey parameters for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points."
Personal comment: I have seen these polls for quite a while now, but I still find them shocking. Likewise, many Americans are shocked when they learn about polls that say 45% of Germans consider U.S. more dangerous than Iran. Perhaps bloggers complaining about Anti-Americanism/Anti-Europeanism need to be more concerned about their fellow citizens' political views than with the political views across the Atlantic or at least notice how common ignorant perceptions are.
Still, I am wondering whether in the next few months even more Americans will believe that Iran was responsible for 9/11.
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Zyme - #1 - 2007-06-27 16:36 -
"Likewise, many Americans are shocked when they learn about polls that say 45% of Germans consider U.S. more dangerous than Iran." They should not be shocked - just compare the size of the iranian and the american military and then take a look at how often each nation attacked others in the last decade, and you will easily come to a conclusion on which of both is more dangerous to world peace.
Don S - #2 - 2007-06-27 16:51 -
"Perhaps most alarmingly, 41% of Americans answered 'Yes' to the question "Do you think Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?"" This is a problem with poll design. The question did not ask whether this is a point of proven fact - it is asking for an opinion. So the respondents gave their opinion. Opinions are like anuses - everyone has one. How many people in Europe (or the US for that matter) believe that Che geuvara was a wonderful, compassionate hero rather than a cold-blooded killer? Opinion, not fact.
Don S - #2.1.1 - 2007-06-28 19:24 -
Yes. Both are opinions. Anyway I believe that Newsweek poll was A) a frigging insult - and intended as such, and B) inaccurate and oversimplified in it's so-called 'correct' answers. Some of which are incorrect and all of which reflect the conventional wisdom as seen in Georgetown and the Upper East Side. Everyone who disagrees with any of it is obviously an ignorant yahoo and should go skulk in a corner while the illuminati order the world as they see fit.
bob - #3 - 2007-06-27 19:57 -
Hagiography FAZ style: http://www.faz.net/s/Rub117C535CDF414415BB243B181B8B60AE/Doc~E1B2FF051EF4C4956A71736B480EE5CA9~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html.
Consul-At-Arms - #4 - 2007-06-27 19:58 -
As a matter of opinion, it's not too far a leap of faith to go from the documented links between Saddam's regime and its support of AQ operatives and the specific operation that resulted in the 9/11 attacks.
JW-Atlantic Review - #4.1 - 2007-06-27 21:50 -
Okay, you and Don think this question is about an opinion. You think that there is not a correct answer, because there are still open questions re 9/11, right? The case is still open. For me, the case is closed and the 9/11 commission findings are like a court ruling I guess, here we disagree. Fair enough. Since you believe this is a matter of opinion, would you think that it is fair enough to believe in a direct involvement of the CIA in 9/11 or is that Anti-Americanism? The 9/11 commission did not find any Iraq-9/11 evidence. Which documented evidence do you think of? The poll question was about "direct involvement" in 9/11. The question was not about whether Al Qaeda people have met Iraqis. Sure, it is fair enough to make a "leap of faith." Though it is faith, not knowledge. After a couple of beers and a few episodes of "24" I regularly make the leap of faith to "conclude" that China organized 9/11, because Arabs can't pull of a stunt like 9/11. China benefits the most from Americas's response to 9/11. ;-) When directly asked at a press conference in 2005 or 2006, President Bush said that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. (He has not been that clear in 2002 and 2003) Not a single senior Bush administration offical or CIA director or NSA director has said that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was "directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001." That's why I am surprised that so many Americans believe Saddam was responsible. The reason for the Iraq war was the believe in WMD. As far as I know, the theories of an Saddam's involvement in 9/11 only gained today's popularity when no WMD were found...?
David - #4.1.1 - 2007-06-28 03:38 -
Yes, there are still Americans who believe Saddam was involved in 9/11 and had stockpiles of WMD. But you're scraping the bottom - IQ-wise. These are the same people who believe George W. Bush is a great president, and the Grand Canyon was formed 6000 years ago.
Don S - #184.108.40.206 - 2007-06-28 12:27 -
Thak you, David. Has it ever occured to you that people who see everything in blck and white and can't handle shades of grey (like yourself) may be the ones at the bottom of the IQ barrel?
Consul-At-Arms - #4.1.2 - 2007-06-28 08:36 -
The question seems to me to be asking about belief or opinion ("do you think"), as opposed to certain knowledge. "Do you think Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?" Sadly, the 9/11 Commission came to its conclusions, held its hearings, and published its report (in that order, btw) without benefit of information gained through exploitation of captured Iraqi government documents. So the 9/11 Commission's report must necessarily be considered incomplete (at best). Did you happen to notice the high-ranking AQ leader who, when wounded in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, fled to Iraq where he received sanctuary and aid? Do you recall the location and date of Abu Nidal's death? Okay, not AQ but the GWOT has never been limited to AQ (nor should it be, for reasons which should be self-evident). As for the CIA, the only connections I see from them to the 9/11 attack was their part in the systemic inability to detect/deter/neutralize the 9/11 attackers. Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. So to answer your question, I think those who believe the CIA was responsible for the 9/11 attack have been grossly misserved by those who publish the newspapers they read and the television news they see and hear. It's arguably not their fault they are so mis-informed. Which means they're merely ignorant, not stupid. Woe betide their news organs when they finally learn how poorly they are informed. And as regards the some of the responsibility for that systemic inability, see 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick. I would also refer you to Pres. Bush's Sept. 20, 2001 address: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html Especially these parts: "Who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda." "This group and its leader -- a person named Osama bin Laden -- are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction." & "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." As for WMD, quite a few WMD were found in Iraq, but for some reason that doesn't get a lot of press. Apparently people in the media get to re-define was constitutes WMD to fit their agenda. On one day, White Phosphorus grenades seem to be qualify and on another binary nerve agent shells do not. Please read the Iraq War Resolution (http://hnn.us/articles/1282.html) for the 23 articles which the U.S. Congress thought sufficient causus belli for the U.S. to invade Iraq. Only some of them have to do with WMD. I would concede that the WMD rationale was over-emphasized in drumming up popular and international support for the invasion, but it was never the sole justification.
Don S - #4.1.3 - 2007-06-28 11:34 -
Joerg, I sometimes think people on your side of the deabte look at things like this as a court case - except that you put too much weight on the findings of bodies like the 9/11 commission or a court. Sometimes a court verdict is conclusive, but not always or even usually. Usually a verdict is that the state failed to make it's case. That is why they call it 'Not Guilty' rather than 'Innocent'. The 9/11 commission conclusion was further hampered by the fact it was inherently a political body. That is that partisanship inevitably plays a role in these ostensibly 'non-partisan' commissions. There were people with agendas on that commission. I'm certain that most of them attempted to supress their natural agendas and their preconceptions going in. To what degree they succeeded is not obvious to the bystander. So I don't view the conclusions of such a commission as a finding of anything like absolute truth, but at best an informed opinion. And if the body did not (as Consul-At-Arms writes) consider all the evidence - then that opinion is not as informed as it could have been. If I had been a respondent to that poll my answer might well have dismayed you - it depends upon the form of the question. If asked whether I though Saddam (or Iraqis) had something to do with 9/11 (as an opinion) I would possibly say yes - in a support or funding sense). If asked whether I viewed that conclusion as a matter of established fact - no. One more thing. I'm not sure what your profession is - though sometimes I think you are a lawyer. The phrasing of that poll question was quite important - but I'm not sure the average respondent picked up on the most important word in the question, which was 'directly': ""Do you think Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?". I think that including that word was enough to slant the question in a slightly dishonest manner. I'm not sure. I doubt Saddam directly planned, financed, or participated in the 9/11 attack. But I would say precisely the same about the Saudi financiers of Al Queda. I very much doubt ANY of them provided funding specifically tied to carry out attacks upon the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and neither did Saddam's Iraq. If they did provide support, funding, intelligence, contacts, etc - it was to support the goals of Al Qaeda & probably not a specific operation. Hell, it's not even clear that Al Qaeda itself did any of the planning for the Madrid or Bali bombing, though they almost certainly did so on the 9/11 and earlier attacks. The trouble with that poll question is that answered literally it acquits the malefactors (Arab financiers & possibly Iraq) of a crime. Sorry. Just because a person or a country doesn't 'directly' plan or finance a specific operation does not acquit them. In my opinion if not your's.
jan - #5 - 2007-06-27 20:48 -
jörg - i'm skeptical about advertising this poll. i think the persistent misbelive that saddam hussein's government was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks might have some special status. picking that one out and describing it as the "perhaps most alarming" one, as done in the quoted "raw story", is distorting. it's similarly questionable to stress that this result is 5 percentage points up, given a 4 percentage point margin of error. this can hardly be taken to indicate any tendency. looking at the other results of the poll, i don't find them so shocking. i agree that things look like they could be better, but take for instance the fact that about 60% of all polled people could identify nancy pelosi's roll as speaker of the house of representatives. do we know how many germans could name the bundestagspräsident? (true, it's multiple choice, so results would be hard to compare, since presumably it's hard to control for the prominence of the alternative options). there was also one question on the roster that i found truly bizarre, namely #5, especially given the statement "CORRECT answer is in bold". i think polls like this, at least to me as someone who doesn't know too much about how they are gathered, how people are instructed, and what a "typical" outcome would look like, are pretty hard to interpret, and are likely to increase whatever prejudices somebody has, by giving questionable "evidence" to that believe. cheers, jan
JW-Atlantic Review - #5.1 - 2007-06-27 21:31 -
I consider the bold in #5 also bizarre. I think the Speaker of the House of Representatives plays a bigger role and is MUCH more often mentioned in the media than the Bundestagspräsident. Anyway, I am not so interested in the other poll results. For me this is NOT about how well Americans are informed about politics in general, but about the Iraq and 9/11 issue. Bush and Cheney have used the words Iraq and 9/11 so often that many people get confused. Besides, it seems some folks need 9/11 to cope with the Iraq war. "i think the persistent misbelive that saddam hussein's government was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks might have some special status." What kind of "special status"? And why? "it's similarly questionable to stress that this result is 5 percentage points up, given a 4 percentage point margin of error. this can hardly be taken to indicate any tendency." I admit, you are right. Though, if we are that strict with polls, then we cannot see any indications in most polls. I mean, most polls of a margin of error of 3-5% points. And on the big questions, there hardly is a change of more than 5% points. Is it good news that only 20% think most of the 9/11 hijackers come from Iraq? Or is it bad news that only 43% knew that most of them came from Saudi Arabia?
Don S - #5.1.1 - 2007-06-28 13:58 -
Newsweek was wrong about the 'correct' answer on a number of the questions. Look at #4, about Al Gore and Andrew Jackson. This was a self-evident smarmy 'look how much I know and you don't. The proper answer to such questions is something like 'kiss my backside' or 'Piss off'. Not one of the choices offered. Similarly #9, about how many nations have nuclear weapons. Newsweek pig-arrogantly asserts the 'correct' answer is 9 when the actual answer is 'I don't know'. The US, Russia, China, France, the UK, India, and Pakistan are certain because they have verifiably tested weapons. It gets murky beyond that. Israel and North Korea are 'probables'. South Africa is also likely - but Newsweek missed that one completely. Iran is unlikely but the possiblility exists. And what about the countries formerly part of the USSR? There could be 'black' programs in Japan, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, and Argentina - or elsewhere. North Korea and Pakistan have been selling the technology - might they have sold warheads? How about the former SSR's - same question. So the correct answer ranges from 7 to we don't know. Then there is #23, which asserted that Global warming is NOT caused by greater output from the sun. This is certainly the conventional wisdom. It's probably correct in a narrow sense - I've heard that solar activity is up but that is not quite the same as 'output'. One thing we do know is that the 'Little Ice Age' occured between about 1200 AD and 1700 to 1800. We don't know why. What we do know is that temperatures began rising before the industrial age started raising carbon dioxide levels. There is no question that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas - but there is a lot of disagreement on it's impact on global warming. There are eminent climatologists who believe the impact of the carbon dioxide rise is like a fart in a hurricane. Obviously others think it's far more significant, but when I read the 'Father of scientific climatology' assert that water vapor has 1000 times the impact of carbon dioxide - I have to wonder, don't you?
jan - #5.1.2 - 2007-07-01 04:53 -
jörg - when i speculated about the "special status" of the question of saddam hussein's alleged direct role in 9/11, i meant to allude to just that politics of deliberate obfuscation or misinformation that you address in your reply. i misread your intentions in posting the poll results -- i now understand that in fact you were making a point here about the response to the 9/11 question, and i find that convincing. what i meant to point out was that this question stands out from the rest in that the rest is not shocking to me, so the 9/11 question should not be taken as representative. what you meant to point out is that that response is demonstrating the lasting results of misinformation. the relatively more informed responses to the other questions even add weight to that. as for the tendencies and margins of error, i think it's true that with the data from the two polls mentioned, we can't learn anything, and while it's not factually false to say that one average was higher than the other, i think it's good to be aware that that might not actually mean anything. cheers, jan
Pat Patterson - #6 - 2007-06-28 07:44 -
We asked a similar though shorter series of questions to sophomores (15 year olds) at the high school I was assigned. The results, from memory, indicates that the kids are definitely being taught these things and probably simply forgetting them as adults. They knew who the president was, the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the House (the lady that looks like Joan Rivers), they knew about Rome and Judaism, they said there were chemical weapons in Iraq (I found out one of the science teachers had shown them a WWI video and they asked questions about the lines of blindfolded soldiers). As an aside many wanted to enlist but they were a little hazy on what would be expected of them as soldiers. They knew the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia but thought Putin was a bald guy with a birth mark, they knew the name of California's governor (The Terminator but they couldn't remember his real name), they knew the difference between an initiative and a referendum, they knew how to find things on a map using latitude and longitude and they thought that we were all going to drown because of melting ice pack some day. But the two best were that Gen Santa Ana was bribed at San Jacinto and that someday the US would invade Vietnam. But in regards to Vietnam I was left with the impression that many of the kids wished this for event simply so that their parents would stop talking about the homeland. I'll leave it to the imagination to figure out what groups were the majority at the school. But all in all they knew a lot more than their parents and obviously most of the adults in the US.
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