The J Street organization, which bills itself “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement” has released a new survey of the American Jewish community.
I want to discuss just one particular ‘finding’ from this poll, because it shows how J Street and others use polling deceptively.
Perhaps, more remarkable is [American Jews’] attitude on the basic dichotomy that often captures the debate – that is, when push comes to shove, does military superiority or a peace agreement better provide Israeli security. On this fundamental question…Jews favor a peace agreement by a 50 to 34 margin…
J Street’s technique is to conflate two questions, one trivial and true and the other significant but false. The polling data naturally supports the trivial one, but the interpretation claims to have proven the significant one.
Here’s the question that gave rise to the numbers above:
- Israel cannot rely on peace agreements with its enemies to provide security, and in the long run, Israel can only achieve real security by maintaining its military superiority; or,
- Israel must always maintain its strong military, but in the long run, Israel can only achieve real security through peace agreements that end conflicts and establish internationally recognized borders.
The first thing that you notice is that these questions don’t present clear-cut opposing positions. Alternative 1 says that “Israel cannot rely on peace agreements” but alternative 2 says that “Israel must always maintain its strong military”. If Israel could rely on peace agreements, then why would it need a strong military?
What the question basically comes down to is this: “Which would be better, a strong military with peace agreements that end the conflict, or military superiority without such agreements?” And the obvious, trivial answer is “of course it would be better to have an agreed end to the conflict!” And this is what 54 percent of American Jews believe.
But this trivial proposition is not the one that J Street claims to show. Rather, they want us to believe that a majority of American Jews think that a ‘peace agreement’ provides ‘better security’ than military superiority.
And that’s not all. The question posits abstract “peace agreements that end conflicts”. But this kind of agreement, the holy grail of Israeli-Arab peacemaking is nowhere on the table today. The question is so hypothetical as to be meaningless.
There’s more, lots more, including this false dichotomy:
After we presented a mixture of hawkish and pro-peace messages, we re-asked this series of questions and the “firm support” number was unchanged.
Did it occur to the writer that it is quite consistent to be “hawkish” — that is, to believe that “military superiority” is necessary to the continued existence of the state — and to want peace? And that it is reasonable to think that the “peace efforts” that are presently under way are actually more likely to lead to war than peace? So maybe it’s not so clear who is pro-peace and who is not.
And — oh yes. One minor methodological point.
Gerstein | Agne contracted the research company YouGovPolimetrix to administer the survey by email invitation to its web-based panel, which is regularly updated and consists of 1.2 million Americans.
This poll is not a random sample, the sample was allowed to select itself! Self-selection bias is one of the most elementary errors that can be made in opinion research.
To slightly twist a remark by Mark Twain, there are lies, damn lies, and opinion polls.