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<nettime> Sniffing Polls
Ryan Griffis on Thu, 18 Dec 2003 13:59:30 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Sniffing Polls



When the media portrayal of dissent isn't enough... 

from:
http://www.jordantimes.com/Sun/opinion/opinion5.htm
Pew poll on 'trade' doesn't pass the sniff test

By Norman Solomon
      DRAWING ON poll numbers gathered last year, the
influential Pew Research Centre for the People and the
Press waited until the recent trade summit in Miami to
put out a report under headlines that proclaimed
“Support for Free Trade” and “Miami Protests Do Not
Reflect Popular Views”. But a much more fitting
headline would have been: “Report Conclusions Do Not
Reflect Actual Data”.

The first sentence of the Nov. 20 report claimed
direct relevance to current disputes over proposals
for a Free Trade Area of the Americas: “The
anti-globalisation protesters who have clogged the
streets of Miami voicing opposition to negotiations to
create a free trade area in the Western Hemisphere are
not speaking for the strong majorities throughout the
region who believe trade is both good for their
countries and for them personally.”

Interesting. But true?

Both survey questions cited by the report asked people
in 10 nations of the hemisphere about “the growing
trade and business ties” between their country and
other countries. But the report overlaid the replies
about generic commerce onto particular types of trade
arrangements — “free trade” deals such as the proposed
FTAA.

After contacting the Pew Research Centre about this
evident disconnect, I heard back from Bruce Stokes, a
columnist for the National Journal and former senior
fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's now a
Pew Research Centre fellow.

Stokes responded that “we did not poll on the issue of
the `rules' of trade and so did not report results to
that effect. Nor did we report people's views about
`free trade'. We merely reported that people generally
think greater trade is better for their countries and
their families.”

Yet the report went far beyond merely gauging
attitudes towards generic trade. From the outset, it
referred to protesters “voicing opposition to
negotiations to create a free trade area” — and
equated support for “trade” with support for “free
trade”.

The equation is more than a little skewed. “Most
people I know weren't in Miami to discuss the abstract
issue of trade, but rather the very concrete set of
rules contained in the FTAA,” said Karen Hansen-Kuhn,
trade programme coordinator at The Development GAP.
“To suggest that the anti-corporation globalisation
movement is anti-trade is completely off-base,” said
Sarah Anderson, a fellow at the Institute for Policy
Studies, who has been following FTAA negotiations
since 1994.

“Yes, there is a tiny subset that calls for less
global trade, based primarily on the argument that
long-distance transport of goods has detrimental
environmental impacts,” Anderson noted. “But the vast
majority of people in the streets in Miami and at
similar protests around the world are not opposed to
international trade and investment. They just want
different rules to ensure that the benefits of this
economic activity actually benefit ordinary people
instead of the rich.”

Similar comments came from author Edward S. Herman, an
economist and media analyst who is professor emeritus
of finance at the Wharton School, University of
Pennsylvania. “What is super-deceptive about the Pew
questions is the conflating of `growing trade' with
`free trade' agreements, which is like conflating
`fighting against crime' with support of capital
punishment,” he said.

Herman added: “The critical failure of the Pew
questions is that they don't ask about the rules that
are installed in `free trade' agreements like NAFTA
and the proposed FTAA agreement — that subordinate
national sovereignty to the demands of foreign
investors and traders, impose rules like honouring
patent monopoly rights and limit government rights to
tax or regulate foreign investors. A more honest
question would ask about trade-offs between national
sovereignty and the rights of foreign investors and
traders, not one that asks, essentially, if you favour
more rather than less trade.”

The FTAA is highly controversial in Brazil — one of
five South American countries highlighted in the
report from the moneyed Pew Research Centre. But Maria
Luisa Mendonca, director of the Network for Social
Justice and Human Rights, based in Brazil, told me
that the survey's research “has nothing to do with the
FTAA”.

Brazil is a crystal-clear example of how the Pew
report obscures key realities. In early November,
Brazil's president “travelled to Africa to increase
trade and also cultural and political relations with
African countries”, Mendonca points out. “There were
no protests in Brazil against that. On the other hand,
a grassroots plebiscite that included over 10 million
people last year showed that over 98 per cent of the
voters were against the FTAA and wanted the Brazilian
government to leave the negotiations.”

Without any tally of people's views about “free trade”
arrangements, the Pew report was incapable of backing
up its lead assertion — that “free trade” opponents
“are not speaking for strong majorities throughout the
region who believe trade is both good for their
countries and for them personally”.

Any difference that may exist in public attitudes
towards “trade” and “free trade”, Stokes acknowledged,
is “a distinction that we did not poll on”. But, in
that light, how could the report base its conclusions
on the assumption that no such distinctions
significantly exist?

In a response via e-mail, Stokes said it was “fair for
us to say that many of the protesters did oppose
trade, that that is certainly how many were perceived
by the media and that we were merely pointing out that
such opposition to trade is not shared by publics in
the region”.

Let's unpack that statement: Without any supporting
data in a report headlined “Support for Free Trade”,
the spokesperson for the Pew Research Centre contends
that “many of the protesters did oppose trade”, not
only what's known as “free trade”. In effect, the
report — while accepting without any hard evidence the
media stereotype of protesters as simply anti-trade —
found that the public does not identify favourably
with views that media have imputed to the protesters.

The next time a pollster, journalist or politician
equates all “trade” with corporate-friendly trade
pacts, you might recall the `Through the
Looking-Glass' words of Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a
word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither
more nor less.”

The writer has a syndicated column on media and
politics. He contributed this article to The Jordan
Times.

Sunday, December 14, 2003
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