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September 29, 2004

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"So the takehome message is that most people support Kerry's positions on most of the issues that were asked about;..."

Or...Kerry supports all populist positions. Bush, on the other hand has to take far more issues into consideration that involve the tougher, less populist issues, that are more complex to comprehend for the casual poll responder. It's pretty easy to guess the populist side of an issue and surmise your candidate favors that argument.

But we expect our President to make tough decisions affecting the very future of the world we live in. The easy, popular answer isn't necessarily the right one.

That's what these outcomes could very well reflect. Don't you think?

If I thought that there was much to be said for the positions Bush takes, or if I didn't know that a lot of Kerry's are of long standing (he has generally been in favor of things like the ICC, the land mine treaty, etc., and he has been really strong on the environment for his whole career), then I might be tempted by this view. But when I ask myself, self, is deploying a missile defense system that costs around $100billion but doesn't actually work a sign of strong leadership, or lunacy? I end up thinking: lunacy. -- I mean: here are quotes:
"The paucity of realistic test data has caused the Pentagon's chief weapons evaluator to conclude that he cannot offer a confident judgment about the system's viability. He estimated its likely effectiveness to be as low as 20 percent.

"A system is being deployed that doesn't have any credible capability," said retired Gen. Eugene Habiger, who headed the U.S. Strategic Command in the mid-1990s. "I cannot recall any military system being deployed in such a manner.""

And a lot of the other positions are similar.

But when I ask myself, self, is deploying a missile defense system that costs around $100billion but doesn't actually work a sign of strong leadership, or lunacy? I end up thinking: lunacy.

Sadly, no.

It's crony capitalism; the coin-operated Presidency. And it's about the perception of doing something when, in reality, you're doing a whole lotta nothing.

Blobbudsman writes:

Or...Kerry supports all populist positions. Bush, on the other hand has to take far more issues into consideration that involve the tougher, less populist issues, that are more complex to comprehend for the casual poll responder. It's pretty easy to guess the populist side of an issue and surmise your candidate favors that argument.

But we expect our President to make tough decisions affecting the very future of the world we live in. The easy, popular answer isn't necessarily the right one.

That's what these outcomes could very well reflect. Don't you think?

No, I don't think so. The point of this article isn't that Americans voting for Bush disagree with his positions but vote for him because they respect his ability to make tough decisions. Instead, Bush voters are IGNORANT about their candidate's position and are voting for him on that basis.

Actually, considering the media dream world that is the source of most of our information, I'm less surprised that people were wrong about what Bush thinks than that they were right about what Kerry thinks.

What the poll reveals is nothing new, however: I clearly recall back in 1984 surveys that asked people how they felt about a variety of issues and the answers they got were far closer to Walter Mondale's positions than Ronald Reagan's. But when those same surveys asked people who they were going to vote for, clear majorities said Reagan.

The image outweighed the substance. The same, I suspect, is at work here. And I'd suggest that Blobbudsman's post serves as an illustration. I don't mean that as a slam - although I realize it might sound like one - but an observation on a trend that broke through in 1980 and has been gaining strength since.

Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%).

Really? Anyone on the planet thought Bush supported Kyoto or ICC? Show them to me, please, that I might laugh at them. And then let me laugh at the pollsters, because I suspect they're all brown-eyed.

Slart -- I might have been more skeptical, but I actually used to do telephone surveys for a political polling organization, and I can tell you, there are some very peculiar people out there. (It was a good experience, though: I had to confront the question: do you really favor democracy given that some people are very, very badly informed? at an early age, and answer yes, and thereafter I was immune to surprise. Sort of like having the measles.)

I don't dispute that there are very peculiar people out there, hilzoy. I do question that said very peculiar people make up 50-70% of the population.

Then again, people are stupid. My wife just discovered DU, and she still can't believe the people there are for real.

Oh, and I must admit the missile defense issue is calling to me; it's something I know more than a little bit about. Must...break...free!

Cool it with the copyright violations, there, my friend.

SPOOOOOOOON!

Slart, did you see the brief article in the latest New Yorker summarizing the case against Bush's missile defense policy? It seems pretty withering to me (without mentioning one of what I find one of the most serious issues, the incredible complexity of the software involved and the difficulty of split-second cross-system coordination), but she's preaching to the choir in my case.

There are some good critiques there, but probably the best is that it's only designed to protect against ICBMs.

Which also makes it the least relevant. No one is going to emplace a centralized tactical missile defense system in Alaska; it just doesn't make sense to do so. There are tactical missile defense systems already being deployed, and others in the pipeline. So criticising NMD for not doing what it's not designed to do is pretty worthless.

Cost is another decent criticism. This is an argument I'm going to leave for others, because I frankly don't know whether NMD costs are reasonable, or even what yardstick to use for reasonable.

The assessment that had me comment on this in the first place is remarks made regarding capability. Capability, without being defined, is meaningless. You can't assign a number to capability unless you precisely define what meaning capability has in that context. I'd guess that more reasonable metrics would be probability against single or multiple launches of each design-to threat, but again, what's meant by 20% is left entirely up to the reader. If initial capability is 20% against, say, a rogue Soviet ICBM, I'd say that's not a bad jumping-off point. If it's 20% against a single, unitary warhead launched out of North Korea (and I'd like to note here, briefly, that North Korea's launch capability seems to vary widely, depending on whether it's used to bolster arguments for or against NMD), then that's not so good. If it's initially 20% but upgrades rapidly as objective-system segments are folded in, then again, not so bad.

Most of the other criticisms made in the WaPo piece are valid to a some extent or other; the allegations are far too general to say whether they are extremely serious or just a result of streamlining the program a bit. If there's no government oversight, that's extremely bad. If there are in fact no overarching requirements documented for the system, also very bad.

Fast-tracking programs has its good and bad points. If done right, you can get a program to deployment much faster (in theory) without having to pay a lot more money for doing so. If done wrong, optimistic test plans and program schedules create a train wreck. JFTR, I've never, ever been on a program that was done right as above. It's also a near certainty that even when a program is fast-tracked intelligently, costs are going to be higher. Because you've got to have your staff work overtime to make up for inevitable program slips, you're also going to have to redesign hardware because you had to do the initial design hastily, and (and this nearly always gets overlooked) you'll nearly always have failures that demand time and schedule to determine root cause. I just finished one of those a couple of months ago, and I had actually been considering it as a "what if" exercise for a few months prior to it halting my program. My solution therefore only took a week or so to implement; what took a long time was convincing the customer that it was both the right thing to do and addressed the failure completely. And then validating the solution in further testing, which is also a schedule hit.

Just so we're all out in the open, I work for Lockheed Martin. Boeing, the GMD interceptor contractor, is our main competition. I'm not blessing Boeing's design, nor am I blessing the NMD program. I'm simply noting that newspaper articles carry a profoundly unsatisfying level of detail when it comes to assessment of missile defense viability.

God, Slartibartfast, what a waste of space. Star Wars didn't work in its rigged tests, so now we are not going to test it anymore. 1000 words of hot air.

Oh, also for the record: technological complexity isn't really an issue in missile defense. The real issues are (in no particular order) reliability, validation of the integrated system interfaces, and the degree to which discrimination must be done by any of the system segments. Most of the technology used in these systems is at least a decade old. JMHO, of course, but I have somewhere north of a dozen years' experience in tactical and strategic missile defense, so I think I have some idea what the issues are.

Testing the software is certainly an issue, but that's not so much techological in nature as it is a matter of testing. And the community that designs software testbeds has come a long way in the last decade.

Jim, speak for yourself. Informed opinion from people who have relevant experience is a rare resource in blogworld, and I'll thank you not to attack those who take the time to offer it (by request, in this case).

Slart, thanks for the info. Interesting to see how many parallels there are with my job, writing business software. Which I'm theoretically supposed to be doing right now, so I guess I'll stop here.

Slart wrote:

Really? Anyone on the planet thought Bush supported Kyoto or ICC? Show them to me, please, that I might laugh at them. And then let me laugh at the pollsters, because I suspect they're all brown-eyed.

Actually what I want to know is why Hilzoy keeps recycling this garbage from from a group that screwed up its other major “survey” on how supposedly “misinformed” some news viewers were? Check out the http://www.pipa.org/about.html#sponsors>sponsors and it reads like a Who’s Who of left-wing advocacy groups (many of whom seem tied to the Democrat nominee's wife incidentially). For another good laugh read the “http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Pres_Election_04/Questionnaire09_29_04.pdf>questionnaire” and see how they try to slant the questions in order to direct the respondents towards an affirmative response for various treaties and laws the sponsors favor. Push polling at its finest!

Push polling at its finest!

I have no idea about PIPA's past history but if you think that's push polling... well, jeez, let's like at the heinous bias apparent in the following question:

What is your impression of the positions of the following people or groups on this question:

"In the Middle East conflict, should the United States take Israel's side, take the Palestinians' side, or not take either side?"

Yeah, they're just ramming that answer down your throat there...

Yes, those push-polling questions were certainly biased, weren't they?

I mean, if you're going to go by the push-polling handbook as written by the experts, much better to ask innocently if someone would vote for a candidate who sired a black baby out of wedlock.

I'm not saying this method was not effective in achieving its desired ends.

if thorley is still around, can you point to a question or questions you considered to be pushpolling?

did you think the desciptions of the various treaties and laws mischaracterized those treaties and laws?

kenB, I agree that informed opinion from people who have relevant experience oughta be encouraged, and I found Slart's comment interesting too, but I would like to point out that Jim's criticism is perfectly reasonable even if it is a bit curt.

Slart: JFTR, I've never, ever been on a program that was done right as above.

yes, well, that's kinda the problem in a nutshell isn't it. if it didn't matter whether things could be done right in practice, Pons and Fleischmann would be wealthy men indeed.

the problem with taking Slart's comment as expert opinion in favor of NMD is that it actually undermines the argument that this particular program is anything other than a boondoggle... explaining why fast-tracking might be a good idea under circumstances that Slart personally has never seen is just muddying the water. if Slart's professional expertise is relevent at all then it's also relevant that he's never personally seen the creature that he's telling us exists. and if he's not trying to tell us that the program in question is an example of such a creature, then what's the benefit of his expertise in the first place?

Not putting the done-right bit up as either support or detraction of NMD, radish. Just something to consider. I wouldn't suggest that my never having seen program acceleration done right means anything at all about NMD or any other program in general. Just that it's difficult, and most program managers depend on some blend of luck and inclination of the customer to forgive.

Funny how Anarch had to get to end of the poll to find a question that actually sounded somewhat even-handed. Reading a lit bit closer to the beginning of the “survey” though:

Should the U.S. participate or not participate in the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming?

Except of course that no one actually believes that Kyoto would reduce what portion of global climate change may be attributable to human behavior.

Should the US participate or not participate in the treaty that would prohibit nuclear test explosions worldwide?

Nice of them to throw in the word “explosion” in there to give it that “who could possibly be in favor of nuclear explosions” feel.

Should the US participate or not participate in the International Criminal Court that tries individuals for war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity if their own country won’t try them?

Of if they don’t like the outcome from that country’s trial.

Whether you agree or disagree with the policies/treaties in the “survey,” it’s pretty clear from the wording of the questions where the survey-takers stand on these particular issues. I’ve done market research as a college student and we would never ask a question worded like any of the above in a million years unless we wanted to get a particular result (which is something that a properly worded question is designed to prevent). By asking the questions in a way that makes a particular policy appear more favorable (or opposition to them less favorable) they obviously skewed their results towards more of an affirmative response.

Thorley: Push polling at its finest!

Nope, I'd say that crown goes to the infamous question: "If you knew that John McCain fathered a black child out of wedlock, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?"

radish, I don't think Jim's comment was reasonable at all, because (a) Slart was specifically asked to give his opinion, and (b) AFAICT he was not endorsing NMD, just putting some of the criticisms in context.

But the comment was probably better left ignored, by me at the very least, so no more out of me on it.

If you knew George Bush took his pregnant girlfriend to have an illegal abortion in 1971, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for him?

Funny how Anarch had to get to end of the poll to find a question that actually sounded somewhat even-handed.

No, Anarch happened to have read the entire poll and picked the question he was reading when he finally decided Thorley was full of it.

Except of course that no one actually believes that Kyoto would reduce what portion of global climate change may be attributable to human behavior.

Except, of course, many (arguably most) people do, regardless of political affiliation. Even those who attack Kyoto (e.g. Sebastian, IIRC) do so primarily on the grounds that a) the cost-benefit ratio isn't adequate because b) the amount of damage due to anthopogenic warming is small relative to the potential economic disruption Kyoto would cause. [I don't buy their arguments, mind, but they are legitimate.] I've never seen anyone try to make the broader -- and, frankly, risible -- claim that Kyoto would accomplish no reduction whatsoever.

Should the US participate or not participate in the treaty that would prohibit nuclear test explosions worldwide?

There are potentially ways of testing nuclear devices that don't involve detonations, depending on how one interprets "test". I agree that this particular question is poorly worded, but not because of "explosions" (though they probably should have found a more neutral descriptor); my problem is the use of "worldwide". Makes it sound like some weird Strangelovian conflagration. A better way to phrase it would be something like...

"Should the US participate or not participate in a treaty that would ban all countries from testing nuclear weapons?"

...although I confess that I'm not sure that this is an accurate translation because I'm not sure how "worldwide" should be interpreted.

"Should the US participate or not participate in the International Criminal Court that tries individuals for war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity if their own country won’t try them?"

Of if they don’t like the outcome from that country’s trial.

Really? I don't recall the "I don't like the outcome" veto being part of the ICC's charter. Could you please provide the relevant citation?

By asking the questions in a way that makes a particular policy appear more favorable (or opposition to them less favorable) they obviously skewed their results towards more of an affirmative response.

No, they've pretty much described the intended aim of the relevant policies. Whether those intended aims will be achieved by those policies is an entirely separate question, though one which people familiar with the issues should be able to address (if not answer). That you want those questions decorated with your opinions on the matter speaks more to your biases than those of the surveyers.

I too want to thank Slartibartfast for lending us his technical mojo (aka expertise) on the subject of missile defense. Always good to have a real expert on hand, even if I frequently disagree with him :)

Thorley, it seems to me that the questions you quote are not biased so much as incomplete -- they simply state the purpose of the agreements without mentioning the possibility that they might not have the desired effects. I suppose the assumption on the part of an uninformed respondent would be that they would actually achieve what they're intended to achieve.

I'm curious to see how you would re-word these so that they would be fair in your opinion. Would every question have to present the arguments from both (or all) sides?

Thanks, kenB and Anarch. I wouldn't represent myself as an "expert", though. Experts normally get paid for their opinions. Mine's free, and worth every penny.

KenB asks:

I'm curious to see how you would re-word these so that they would be fair in your opinion. Would every question have to present the arguments from both (or all) sides?

I would word the questions as to leave the questioner’s impressions as to what the particular treaty does out entirely. Examples:

Should the U.S. participate or not participate in the Kyoto Treaty?

Should the US participate or not participate in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

Should the US participate or not participate in the International Criminal Court?

As far as giving both sides, I could see doing that if the intention of the survey were to ascertain the respondent’s views on an issue but this survey was purportedly to ascertain the respondent’s knowledge of where the two candidates stood on the issues. If a respondent’s answer were “what’s the International Criminal Court?” then it should be put as a “don’t know” which I believe was an option.

Thorley: so what makes it push polling is that they included something designed to remind people who might have forgotten what the ICC or the Kyoto Accord is? As other people have said, virtually no one other than you believes that Kyoto would not decrease global warming; the arguments are about how much it would reduce it, whether the means proposed are fair and efficient, and whether they're worth the cost. About 'explosions': there are things one can do that might be described as 'testing' nuclear weapons that do not involve explosions -- e.g., testing various components of them, simulations, etc. The test ban treaty is concerned with explosions. Here, for instance, are the "Basic Obligations" it binds countries to:

1. Each State Party undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, and to prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

2. Each State Party undertakes, furthermore, to refrain from causing, encouraging, or in any way participating in the carrying out of any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.

Which, I guess, just goes to show that the Treaty itself is biassed.

About the ICC: the enabling statute is here; the only part you could conceivably be referring to is article 1, sec. 2, where it says that the ICC cannot try a case that is being tried by a state, unless the state is 'unable or unwilling' to genuinely prosecute. Sec. 2 is quite clear about what this means, and says that a state only counts as 'unwilling' when one of the following is the case:

"(a)     The proceedings were or are being undertaken or the national decision was made for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court referred to in article 5;

(b)     There has been an unjustified delay in the proceedings which in the circumstances is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice;

(c)     The proceedings were not or are not being conducted independently or impartially, and they were or are being conducted in a manner which, in the circumstances, is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice."

This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, equate to "when we don't like the result".

I'd also like to know what makes you say that the German Marshall Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment, etc., are 'left-wing'.

Sorry, make that article 17, sec. 2 of the ICC statute.

"Clearly, John, the facts on the ground have an anti-Bush bias!"

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