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The Question Was Leading, Damnit

There's tons of interesting stuff in this Pew report on political typologies. One very disturbing thing, however, is this. One of the questions they asked was whether you agree or disagree that "Relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism." 90 percent of the group they label "Liberals" (which doesn't include everyone who's a liberal by a more conventional definition) agrees, but only 51 percent of the general population agrees. What was the general population thinking? Listen to the question: "Relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism." How could you possibly support relying too much on military force? By definition it's a bad idea! Oh well, poorly worded question, and so I guess it's fortunate that survey respondents don't seem to have paid a lot of attention to the details.

May 11, 2005 | Permalink


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You're showing your hand. It says nothing about "good idea/bad idea" -- what it says is that too much emphasis on military creates hatred. It isn't a given that that would cause hatred -- it might cause fear, dismay, contempt, derision. It might be a leading question, but it's not a self-cancellingly stupid question.

Posted by: Martin | May 11, 2005 1:13:36 PM

Says something about surveys.
Says something about the general population.
Did too many liberals answer the question in such large numbers because they actually understood what was being asked?

Those effete, comprehending liberal are too much!

Posted by: scou29c | May 11, 2005 1:16:04 PM

Martin has it right. Relying "too much" on military might might have a lot of different effects - excess deaths, unwarranted destruction, whatever - but it is not a given that one of those effects would be the creation of hatred that leads to more terrorism.

Posted by: Al | May 11, 2005 1:22:25 PM

The question isn't asking people if too much military force is good or bad. They are asking people if too much military force causes more terrorism. Since the line between too much and just enough is not definable what the questions gets to is "are you willing to risk too much military force over too little." It's actually a pretty good, telling, question.

Posted by: J | May 11, 2005 1:24:51 PM

A ton of people think that there is just never "too much" reliance on the military.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | May 11, 2005 1:27:29 PM

what it says is that too much emphasis on military creates hatred. It isn't a given that that would cause hatred -- it might cause fear, dismay, contempt, derision.

I bet I could make a better case that it does in fact open you up to terrorism with data that beats the hell out of smoking and cancer.

I can't understand why it isn't self-obvious, that's what spooks me.

Posted by: Ed Marshall | May 11, 2005 1:32:35 PM

(This got delayed, so I am repeating other people's points here.)

I agree it's a leading question, but there's no inherent contradiction. Perhaps some people believe we can rely on military force in far excess of what's necessary without creating hatred. Or maybe it creates hatred, but also creates sufficient fear to counter those effects and reduce the amount of terrorism. Some people may believe that "evildoers" attack you not because they have cause to hate you but because they perceive you as weak. (Not a view I endorse, but I believe it is out there.) According to this model increasing reliance on military force will not increase terrorism, though it may become excessive by other measures.

I think it's more likely that the 49% glossed over "too much" but it would be interesting to hear the reasoning behind it.

Posted by: PaulC | May 11, 2005 1:33:56 PM

You can take Pew's online Cosmo-quiz. (I know how much you love those.) I'm a Liberal.

Posted by: Rebecca | May 11, 2005 1:34:53 PM

Polls may be hazardous to sanity. Relying too much on misleading polls is harmful for the health and should be avoided at all costs.

Posted by: The Heretik | May 11, 2005 1:47:57 PM

You can take Pew's online Cosmo-quiz.

I'm an "Enterpriser":

"Basic Description
As in previous studies conducted in 1987, 1994 and 1999, this extremely partisan Republican group’s politics are driven by a belief in the free enterprise system and social values that reflect a conservative agenda. Enterprisers are also the strongest backers of an assertive foreign policy, which includes nearly unanimous support for the war in Iraq and strong support for such anti-terrorism efforts as the Patriot Act.

"2004 Election - Bush 92%, Kerry 1%. Bush’s most reliable supporters (just 4% of Enterprisers did not vote)

"Party ID - 81% Republican, 18% Independent/No Preference, 1% Democrat (98% Rep/LeanRep)

"Media Use - Enterprisers follow news about government and politics more closely than any other group, and exhibit the most knowledge about world affairs."

Yup, other than the social values stuff.

Posted by: Al | May 11, 2005 1:52:14 PM

NPR covered this study today and also included a breakdown of support for Social Security privatization based on Pew category. Chart:

The most support for privatization was among Enterprisers (88% - "Highly patriotic and pro-business; they oppose social welfare and strongly support an assertive national security policy. Wealthy, well-educated and white -- about seven-in-10 are white males.") and the least was among Disadvantaged Democrats (17% - "The least financially secure of all the groups, and the most pessimistic about an individual's ability to secure success with hard work. About one-in-five Disadvantaged Democrats are single parents.").

Posted by: Rebecca | May 11, 2005 2:15:21 PM

Stupid liberals: relying too much on military force leads to depopulation of the planet which means the end of terrorism. That's the ticket.

Too bad only 49% of us understand this, we need just a few more.

Posted by: abb1 | May 11, 2005 2:23:43 PM

If you look at the actual questions, they're all phrased with paired statements, and the person asked is supposed to pick the one that more closely aligns with their beliefs. The opposite of "relying too much on military force..." is "Using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world"

Posted by: ChrisG | May 11, 2005 2:29:41 PM

Yeah, ChrisG. But they only had to format it that way, with opposing pairs of questions, when they couldn't rephrase their leading questions. Otherwise, it would've been the usual, "Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly disagree" spectrum. Using the polarity format allows them to use loaded questions, preemptively avoiding Matt Y's criticism.

Posted by: Grumpy | May 11, 2005 2:59:14 PM

Keep in mind the survey that was the basis for the report is not the same as the questionnaire.

Posted by: eric | May 11, 2005 4:41:15 PM

Suppose the question was do you agree or disagree that "Relying too little on military force to defeat terrorists creates a perception that we are weak leading to more terrorism"? Do you think you would still get 90% agreement from liberals?

Posted by: James B. Shearer | May 11, 2005 9:08:05 PM

I think they designed the questions that way. They weren't so much trying to get definitive answers so much as to assess the general feeling that different people have to different ideas. I don't think they wanted people to spend much time analyzing the question, they just wanted a gut response.

Posted by: Adam Herman | May 12, 2005 4:53:47 AM

I came up "Disaffected," which apparently means I am uneducated, struggling financially, and that I do not follow politics very closely. All of which came as sort of a surprise to me. I wanted to answer "none of the above" on most of the questions, so maybe the quiz did not fully capture my essence.

Posted by: Jeff | May 12, 2005 11:23:47 AM

which group does a hawkish, pro wealth redistribution, pro free market, socially moderate, Truman-Humphrey-Scoop Jackson-Bill Clinton-Joe Lieberman-maybe Hillary Democrat like myself fall into?

Posted by: liberalhawk | May 12, 2005 2:55:12 PM

Well, I fell into upbeat and I'm not far off from you.

Posted by: Adam Herman | May 13, 2005 5:25:32 AM

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