Saturday, April 10, 2010

Analysis of the J Street Poll on US and Israel

This is an analysis of the poll released by J Street allegedly showing support of the Obama Administration's efforts in the peace process. For J Street's view of this poll's findings see

A friend asked, in essence, "Why was the J Street March Poll so skewed?" He asked me what I thought of the poll. I thought I would respond not only to the general question, but to the actual poll.

First, I must point out that few Jews respond to polls specifically aimed at Jews. The various Jewish Population Surveys have found that out through their population studies. Of those who would respond, they tend to be very liberal socially and politically as well as tending toward secularism. It is also well known that there are lies, damn lies, statistics, polling numbers and polling numbers from which policy arguments are being made. It is easy to skew polling numbers if you know what you are doing and I will demonstrate with J Street's poll to make it clear.

What is unknown about the J Street poll is anything having to do with methodology. If they only have survey results from people willing to spend 20 minutes discussing something with a J Street advocate, their numbers would be WAY SKEWED. Whom did they question, how, where and whe? It also depends upon how they ASKED the questions.

Here is the actual polling data.

One of the points that J Street wanted to make is to argue that the administration would not take a political hit if it acts against Israel and largely ignores Iran. The agenda is clearly to play down security issues and foreign policy issues in general. How was this done in the poll? Let’s look at one of the major questions being discussed.

"Q.7 Below is a list of issues facing our country today. Please mark which TWO of these issues are the most important for you in deciding your vote for Congress in November.”

The answers were:

The economy 55
Health care 41
The deficit and government spending 17
Social Security and Medicare 16
Terrorism and national security 13
Israel 10
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan 10
Taxes 8
Education 7
The environment 7
Illegal immigration 6
Energy 4
Separation between religion and state 3
Iran 2

“Look how far down Israel and Iran are,” J Street wishes to argue. However, let’s take a closer look, shall we? This question alone has numerous problems. Just for starters, many concerned about Iran might well have put it into “Israel” or “Terrorism and National Security.” More importantly, however, in the poll they asked for people to pick ONLY TWO of the issues. I myself would have picked The Economy and National Security and I am obviously concerned about Israel and Iran! For me, Terrorism and National Security covers Israel and Iran as well as potentially covering Americas wars.

Thinking about this question a bit more; if I asked you to name the two most important things in your life, what would you choose? If you begin the list with the two primary essentials of life, food and water. You've already left out shelter and clothing. Forget about love, safety, etc... To pretend that picking TWO of the above issues is indicative of much of anything is questionable at best.

Regarding the most frequently quoted issue there are also concerns.

J Street asked, "Q.26 (IF SUPPORT ACTIVE ROLE) (SPLIT A) Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States publicly stating its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs? 86% support.

What constitutes "publicly stating its disagreements?" Is this "We don't think you should be expanding Ramat Shlomo right now?" Or is this, "We think that you need to give in on this issue because we want our administration to look like we're the friend of the Arab world?" The question presupposes that the US' disagreements will be reasonable and fair. Who wouldn't answer this "Yes" in THAT context? In the context of "Would you support the US dramatically altering its policies of the past forty years regarding Israeli control of Jerusalem in order to appease the Palestinians and then turning the ensuing argument into a public berating of the Israeli government?" What do you want to there wouldn’t be 86% in favor of that?

The percentage of respondents who would support US criticism of Israel or pressure on Israel without mentioning the Palestinians is consistently lower than the percentage who would support criticism or pressure on both. This is for UNKNOWN criticism or pressure which allows respondents to assume reasonable positions. If actions were known to be unreasonable, one would assume a less supportive response.

People generally assume fairness and reasonableness. For example, the poll asked:

Q.29 (IF SUPPORT ACTIVE ROLE) (SPLIT B) Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States exerting pressure on Israel to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace? 63% offered support.
However, if they asked "Would you support the US government primarily or ONLY pressuring Israel" or "Would you support the US government specifically pressuring Israel to give Jerusalem to the Palestinians" I bet those numbers wouldn't be close. They DIDN'T because they didn't want to know the answer to those questions. The purpose of this poll, and every poll has a purpose, is to support J Street's policy position that the United States SHOULD USE ITS INFLUENCE on Israel regardless of the policies or actions of the Palestinians in order to pressure Israel to concede to Palestinian demands in the hope of bringing about peace.

This agenda necessitated AVOIDING questions that might have resulted in answers they did not want to receive. By not defining what kind of pressure and to do what, the poll avoided the vital questions.

For example, "Should the United States exert pressure on Israel not to attack Iran in order to destroy or delay Iran's nuclear weapons program by threatening to cut off military aid?" "Should the US exert pressure on Israel to concede Jerusalem in order to meet the demands of the Arab world by publicly calling out its leadership and refusing to meet publicly with Israeli leaders?" You would get VASTLY different results if you asked these detailed questions.

When they get to MORE detailed questions later in the poll (even the later more detailed questions leave out vitally important information), they continue to manipulate the responses. One question was so deliberate that I was shocked: Respondents were asked to state with which of these two statements they were most closely in agreement:

32 When Israel takes actions that publicly embarrass the United States and weaken our international credibility, the United States is right to publicly express our disagreements and request Israel to change certain policies.
Regardless of the issue, the United States should not publicly express our disagreements with Israeli government policy because this emboldens Israel's enemies and encourages them to attack Israel.

It amazes me that anyone would argue against the first statement regardless of the reasonableness of the second, but SHOCKINGLY the respondents were nearly DIVIDED on this issue. WOW! I am frankly scared about the people they asked! How could you possibly not support the first statement??? It was clearly a set up and in failed!!!

They then asked

33 Given America's security interests in the Middle East, resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is critical for maintaining a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
Ending the conflict requires America to serve as an honest broker and publicly state our
disagreements with both Israelis and Palestinians when it is necessary to lead the parties to a peace agreement.
Israel is America's only democratic ally in the Middle East and our shared values form a special relationship between our two countries that is stronger than any dispute. Public criticism of Israel sends the wrong message to Israel's enemies, and we should keep any disagreements private while presenting a united front against those who want to harm Israel...............

Clearly they anticipated a strong result for the first alternative just as they did in the previous question, but didn't get it. Again the result was a nearly even split.

THEN after asking general questions already designed to elicit the same response when details are added later, "But you said A before, why not say A now?" the poll tells the respondents what is going on? Only 44% really were following the news and what qualifies as “Following Closely” is not specified. Is that reading the NY Times daily or is that reading J Post, Haaretz, and numerous commentaries?

More than half didn't really know what was going on and were basing their answers SOLELY on the information provided. This means that the information provided could easily and dramatically skew the poll results and did. Here is the poll's description of the events. I have underlined the key phrases.

Q.35 Vice President Biden's visit to Israel last week was planned in order to demonstrate U.S. support for Israel, advance peace talks with the Palestinians, and coordinate US-Israel policy regarding Iran's nuclear program. During the Vice President's visit, Israel announced it would build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, an area where the U.S. has requested Israel not to build new housing because this is internationally disputed territory. Vice President Biden condemned the Israeli announcement, stating thatit _undermines the trust required for productive negotiations_ and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said
the timing and substance of the announcement was insulting to the United States.
Did the U.S. do the right thing by strongly criticizing the Israeli announcement of new housing in East Jerusalem during the Vice President's visit?
The U.S. did the right thing ...........................................................55
The U.S. did not do the right thing ................................................45

If the question has said, "in Ramat Shlomo, a long established Jewish neighborhood and northern suburb of Jerusalem, which is also an area that the Palestinians want Israel to turn over to them, forcing the evacuation of the tens of thousands of Jews who currently live there and in nearby Jewish neighborhoods established in the area around Jerusalem after the 1967 war in which Israel's neighbors declared war upon it and Israel miraculously survived."

I bet I could change those poll numbers pretty significantly with my more accurate version of the question.

Then, they asked:

Q.36 From what you know about Vice President Biden's visit, do you think Israel's announcement of new housing in East Jerusalem caused a great deal of damage to US-Israel relations, some damage to US Israel relations, not much damage to US-Israel relations, or no damage at all to US-Israel relations? 60% said “Yes.”

They were basically told, “Biden came to help and Israel offered an insult.”
Even under this misleading explanation, where is the following question:

Q. XX PM Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement and that apology was accepted by VP Biden. Following that apology Sec. State Clinton lambasted PM Netanyahu and accused Israel of not being serious about peace the same week that a public square in a Palestinian Authority controlled town was named after a notorious terrorist who killed 38 people including an American and 13 children. Israelis were extremely upset by the Sec. State's comments and subsequent mistreatment of PM Netanyahu by President Obama himself when the President treated the leader of Israel poorly. Do you believe that the Obama Administration caused damage to the US-Israel relationship?

I bet I could have gotten an interesting response to that question. J Street didn't want the answer.

All of the questions are heavily skewed by J Street's explanation of the events and therefore cannot be used to determine whether or not people agree with the administration's actions. But...believe me, that is exactly what they intended for this poll to show.


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