Magazine article The Spectator

I Do Not Believe Last Week's Spectator Poll. It's Not What People Think

Magazine article The Spectator

I Do Not Believe Last Week's Spectator Poll. It's Not What People Think

Article excerpt

Crikey, this really will have to be another voice. Has The Spectator taken leave of its senses? I could hardly bring myself to take last week's edition out of its see-through plastic wrapping when, pictured on the cover, I saw a huge cartoon bulldog being walked on by a Muslim terrorist, and beside it four bald statements in big blue capital letters with a scarlet tick placed against each:

.THIS IS WAR .WE ARE LOSING .WE NEED TOUGHER POLICIES .WE WILL BE ATTACKED and, underneath, 'The view of the British: exclusive poll'.

To my certain knowledge this is not the view of the British. I understand my countrymen well enough, and they are neither as hawkish as some at The Spectator would like them to be, nor as dovish as I could wish. So far as the view of the British on terrorism can be summarised at all (I thought) that view is doubtful, nervous, and a little sceptical of the certainties and enthusiasms of either side. It followed that those stentorian cover lines must prove a crude distortion of the findings of any self-respecting poll. Anyone on a bus expressing himself in such terms would find fellow-passengers edging away from an obvious nutter. I hardly wanted to read on.

I forced myself. First I read the poll itself.

It was immediately apparent that questions had been devised in order to encourage the answers The Spectator wanted to hear; and secondly that, even then, those polled had proved reluctant to give them.

The omission from the detailed table of any figures for the often stubbornly large chunks of 'don't knows' rather gave the game away. Let me give one pregnant little example. Nineteen per cent of respondents had felt unable to choose (as the question tried to force them to) between either the statement 'The West is in a global war against Islamic terrorists who threaten our way of life' or the statement 'Islamic terrorism is a regional problem that poses no real threat to the West'.

But that second statement is a dummy option. In the face of 9/11, the Madrid bombings, 7/7 and the latest allegations, how many of us are seriously going to say there is no real threat? That more than a quarter of respondents either declined to tick either box, or felt pushed into the absurd statement that terrorism poses no threat to the West, shows how presenting people with a false dichotomy can distort a poll's results. Of the 73 per cent who (unwilling to say there is no problem for us at all) ticked the 'world war' box, how many would themselves have chosen such terms? Why were respondents not permitted to answer 'neither' or 'something in between'? Or offered a third option like 'the West is plagued by a dangerous ragbag of Islamic fanatics who may not all be in league but who want to undermine our way of life'?

But in his accompanying 'analysis', Allister Heath then pounces on that 73 per cent and declares, 'Almost three quarters of the British public are now convinced [my italics] that we are fighting a new world war against extremist Islamic terrorists.' A more dispassionate analysis is that, asked to choose between saying that there is a world war and saying that there is no problem for the West, 73 per cent are prepared to assent to the former proposition.

Or take this sneaky question: 'Passenger profiling is a recent term used to describe the process of selecting passengers on the basis of their background or [my emphasis] appearance. Would you like to see "passenger profiling" introduced? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.