The language of polling

Peter Wood writes: Re. “Essential: can the Turnbull magic cover the Liberal Party’s flaws?” (yesterday). I am sick and tired of poor polling methodology from Essential encouraging more human rights abuses against asylum seekers. It is very well known (and Essential should certainly know this) that how people respond to a question in an opinion poll is very strongly influenced by the language used and how the question is framed. Words like ‘tough’ and ‘soft’ are not at all neutral, especially in politics. Politicians invariably want to look ‘tough’ and never want to look ‘soft’, and similarly most voters will be more likely to support something labelled as ‘tough’ rather than soft.

Using phrases like ‘tough’ and ‘soft’ is a highly non-neutral way to phrase the question, just like using a word like ‘sadistic’ would be. I appreciate that in this instance, it is difficult to come up with neutral words, but there are better words than ‘tough’. For example ‘harsh’ or ‘severe’ would make more sense. Alternatively, Essential could conduct polls with separate words, and compare the results. At the very least, Essential should acknowledge the issue so that their results are interpreted accordingly.

Essential Media Communications Research Director Andrew Bunn replies: Each week in our polls, we aim to construct questions which provide unbiased measures of public opinion. In the context of this issue, we think terms like “too tough” and “too soft” are appropriate descriptions of the public’s position on treatment of asylum seekers. Like it or not, other research we have conducted on asylum seeker issues has produced results not inconsistent with these findings. For example, a substantial majority of Australians support current government policies of turning back boats and keeping children in detention centres indefinitely.

The new world order

James Burke writes: Re. “Rundle: after Paris, we enter the waiting room of a post-liberal world order” (yesterday). Guy Rundle’s renewed pessimism prompts the question: How did Western civilisation get to this point? Has it all been a slow-motion accident? Or is there something more sinister going on? Much of the blame must be laid at the feet of one Keith Rupert Murdoch. A man who, it is said, once proudly displayed a bust of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on his college mantel.

Murdoch encouraged the disastrous Iraq adventure, and unleashed his attack-dogs on anyone who questioned the wisdom of that cack-brained enterprise, which permanently weakened the United States and led to the resurgence of Russian and Chinese imperialism. Murdoch encouraged the deregulation of financial institutions, leading to the Global Financial Crisis which impoverished millions of Americans and left the US in hock to Chinese creditors.

Murdoch, while happily conducting business with the Saudi Royal Family (which promotes the Wahhabi jihad against any manifestation of freedom or democracy), also fosters anti-Muslim bigotry, thus fomenting the resentment of Sunnis and encouraging them to join Wahhabi terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Murdoch’s chief American lieutenant, Roger Ailes, has used his Fox News channel to  propagandise against the legitimacy of the US Government, encouraging anti-US activism by revanchist Confederate sympathisers, apocalyptic Christian cults and wacko fascist militias, who advocate a revolution to destroy the very existence of our closest ally.

Has this all been part of a sinister plot to undermine democracy? Could Murdoch be a Manchurian Candidate: a secret Bolshevik terrorist, destroying democracy from the inside, in zombie allegiance to that legendary bust of Lenin?

Let me stress, this is only a theory, and an outlandish one. There are other explanations for Murdoch’s behaviour: he is senile. He is infected by a brain-destroying virus. Or he is a privileged, self-deluding, ignorant, feeble-minded rich kid, surrounded by sycophantic yes-men who never tell him when he’s wrong. Time will tell.

More war theories

Jock Webb writes: Re. “How the West can defeat Islamic State” (yesterday). Lots of ideas from the Yanks then. Another Iraq invasion event — yep that will work. Let’s kill another 100,000 innocents and make them love us more. This from a country that cannot even avoid an MSF hospital with the GPS data? Bad targeting and fire discipline have been a problem since the US landed in Operation Torch in 1943. To quote a Wermacht soldier from the Battle of the Bulge: “When the RAF comes we duck, when the Luftwaffe comes nobody ducks, when the Americans come everybody ducks”. I am also wondering why there is a big cone of silence about the arms makers/dealers who are flogging the weapons. Oops, all Russian and American I guess.

France’s history of terror

John Richardson writes: Re. “On France and terrorism” (yesterday).  Not so fast Ian. It is historically inaccurate to suggest that “terror has receded in French life”, while attempting to contextualise that claim with the French Revolution.

Political leaders self-righteously wrapping themselves in the tri-colour, while ramping-up the emotional hyperbole to the beat of a nationalistic drum and calling for greater powers to “keep us safe”, can’t conceal the French state’s more recent criminal history, as evidenced by its 1961 cold-blooded murder of almost 300 men, women and children on the very same Paris streets any more than it can pretend that there is no connection between such events and those that overtook France last Friday.

As for Ian’s breathtaking attempt to equate the crimes of Daesh with those of the Nazis, perhaps he should look more closely at the events of 1961 and he would discover that the then head of the Parisian police credited with ordering the Paris massacre, one Maurice Papo, was convicted of “complicity in crimes against humanity” in 1998: not for the massacre, but for his involvement in the deportation of hundreds of French Jews to Nazi death camps while an official of the collaborationist Vichy government.

Surely the only value of history is its capacity to help us learn and to apply that learning in the hope that we will become better stewards of the future.

Peter Fray

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