The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Multitudes still misinformed on Saddam-Al Qaeda

After the Pew survey (August 19), a survey (PDF) by the University of Maryland Program on International Policy Attitudes gives further evidence of the stickability of USG-serving myths on Iraq.

Thus, as many as 60% (p5a) think USG is still claiming that Saddam had WMD and 27% think (p6a) that USG is now saying that Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11th attacks

A few things of particular interest:

First, the survey tested whether misperceptions on WMD and Iraq-Al Qaida links were linked to party affiliation - the Fox News factor would make it plausible that Republicans would be more likely to have a wrong belief that an Iraq-AQ connection existed, say. In fact,
Seventy-two percent of Republicans, 74% of Democrats and 72% of independents thought the Bush administration is saying Iraq was either giving al Qaeda substantial support or was directly involved in 9/11.

And more Dems than GOP (35% to 15%) think that USG is now claiming Iraqi involvement in 9/11.

Second, the survey looked at a possible
explanation of why people have these perceptions of the Bush administration...that people are simply not paying enough attention. If so, those who that are paying attention to the news on these issues would be less likely to say that the Bush administration was making such assertions.

They filtered out the more ignorant element with questions, eg, estimating US fatalities; and found that this clued-up sub-sample (10% of the whole) was scarcely better informed on questions of the Iraq-Al Qaida connection and the current USG on whether Saddam had WMD. (Of the sub-sample, 24% said USG now thought that Iraq was involved in 9/11, compared with 27% of the whole.)

Third, the fact that majorities erroneously think that the US had cause to invade Iraq (believing in non-existent Iraq-AQ connections and WMD holdings) does not prevent 69% from saying (p9a) that Bush went to war on incorrect assumptions.

Is it any surprise that the Swift Boat nonsense should have taken such a hold?

The technical and institutional sophistication of the US can coincide with the the belief of 60% of its citizens that the animals went in two by two (June 17) - that a similar number believe that Bush believes in Iraqi WMD is scarcely to be wondered at.

Testimony, I suppose, to the inefficiency of the mass media in conveying information: think of the volume of information that a student doctor has to learn, and get right, compared with a simple thing like USG's views on Iraqi WMD. Existing expertise, motivation, intelligence will play their part in the greater efficiency; but there is also the superiority of text over video.

A Pew survey (PDF) in January said that 68% of Americans got their campaign news mainly from the TV (15% from newpapers). Whether it's the shout shows on cable, or 22 minutes on the nightly news, this is not fare likely to sustain an adequate level of knowledge on any aspect of public affairs.

(Of course, when there was only print was also the era of Yellow Journalism under Pulitzer, Hearst and the like.)

It is a supposition of partisans of the jury system that individual ignorance is no bar to collective wisdom. At least, under representative democracy, the role of the ignorant is limited to casting a ballot - the extension of their role by Robert LaFollette and friends (by way of the initiative, notably) has not been an unmitigated blessing.

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