"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"World public opinion"

Lenin argues that the "World Public Opinion Survey [pdf]" has only managed to arrive at the conclusion that "support for globalization is remarkably strong throughout the world" because the questions are 'loaded'.

I'd suggest - since his argument is that 'globalisation' is used in a reductionist way here - that the problem for him is that the questions are unloaded, in the sense that simple questions of this nature can't do justice to the complexity, ambiguity and contestability of concepts like this.

But opinion polls can do no other: quantitative measures like this are achievable only by a simplification of certain concepts. This can always create problems. At university one example cited by my tutor was that if you asked people if they favoured 'nationalisation', a majority responded in the negative. Ask them if they believed in 'public ownership', on the other hand, and a majority answered affirmatively - the latter term not so 'loaded', as it were, with associations drawn from the experience of the stagflation and strikes of the seventies.

You can try and correct for it but ultimately when conducting a survey, the pollster cannot control for the myriad of connotations a term like 'globalisation' might hold in the mind of respondent. Thing is, given the bad PR 'globalisation' seems to have had, I'm astonished the results were so positive. Lenin asks:
"And what must the pollsters think of those substantial minorities in places like Russia and Mexico who actually think that it's a bad idea? Retrograde, superstitious peasants, surely?"
We don't know what the pollsters think, so we have no evidence that they imputed ignorance to the Russians or the Mexicans. Russia was one of the few countries that didn't show a majority for the 'mostly good' assessment of 'globalisation'. Frankly, I'm astonished that more didn't give a 'mostly bad' response to the question because you might have thought the drastic contraction of the Russian economy in the nineties would have yielded an even less positive response.

Other than Russia, another part of the world where I think it is most difficult to argue that globalisation has been an unalloyed success is Africa. We don't know how Africans would have responded to these questions because on this occasion no-one has bothered to ask any of them. Therefore, instead of trying unsuccessfully to demonstrate that the questions were particularly 'loaded', simply because you didn't like the answers people gave, a more straightforward criticism of this survey of world public opinion would have been that it is not a survey of world public opinion at all.

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