Polling a ‘Foreign Tribe’

As the US presidential elections wind their way towards a painful and tortuous conclusion, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between reporting on a survey that offers a snapshot in time, as opposed to using polls, and past history, to predict what the results might be in a few days, weeks, or months. My colleagues and I have done lots of surveys over the last eight years in Colombia, India, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, and the USA. In all this work, we offered estimates of how many people in a given population engaged in this or that behavior, supported this or that policy, or thought positively/negatively about a particular organization or institution. There is always a confidence interval around every one of those estimates influenced in large part by the number of valid responses. This allows you answer questions like, “what percentage of the population living in the Moroccan cities of Casablanca or Rabat supported this or that political party in May 2015?” Or, “what is the statistical association between attending mosque and believing that women’s rights are human rights?” If I wanted to ask how many people were likely to vote for a specific Moroccan political party in the future, however, I’d have to do so much more than extrapolate from the previous work I’d done with my colleagues. I’d want to have more polls over time, so that I could track trends, and I’d want to figure out a way of predicting who would be likely to actually participate in the election, assuming that participation was voluntary. In the US, pollsters did not do as good a...
Who Thinks Rights Are Respected in the US?

Who Thinks Rights Are Respected in the US?

What do ordinary Americans think about the state of human rights and civil rights in their country? How bad, or good, do they think things are, and why does it matter? Our Survey My colleague Howard Lavine and I surveyed US public opinion in fall 2018 with the help of YouGov, a leading survey firm. Through them, we recruited a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults who had signed up with the survey group to answer online questions. YouGov’s team contacted each respondent twice, interviewing each in two waves of 22 and 24 minutes, on average. The median response rate was 86%. To achieve a nationally representative sample, YouGov weighted the 2,000 strong sample by gender, age, race, and education. We split these 2,000 respondents into two equal parts and asked the first about their perception of respect for “human rights” in the U.S. and asked the second about their perception of respect for “civil rights.” We found no meaningful difference between the two, and thus report on both combined. For this question, the 0.95% confidence interval was +/- 1.4%. As Table 1 indicates, most (61%) of the general population sample – represented by the green bars – told us that human/civil rights were reasonably well respected, as these respondents told You Gov that civil/human rights in the U.S. were either respected “some” (38%) or “a lot” (23%). The remainder – 39% – said that rights were respected either “a little” (27%) or “not at all” (12%). We rescaled perceived level of respect for human rights to 0-1 for statistical purposes, in which 0 = “rights are not at...
How Telecom Mechanisms Have Impacted Polling, Part Two

How Telecom Mechanisms Have Impacted Polling, Part Two

Some populations are inherently difficult to survey. As a result, their voices rarely figure into studies of public attitudes, financial or medical needs, or consumer preferences. The most overlooked populations include people without access to the Internet; immigrants, refugees, and persons internally displaced within their own countries; homeless persons; and people living in low-income, repressive, or war-torn countries.  Some organizations have made significant steps towards addressing this problem, and one such group is RIWI, a publicly-traded company based in Toronto, Canada. In the intermediate future, my company, Azimuth Social Research, hopes to partner with RIWI on a cross-national survey project.  RIWI’s Random Domain Intercept Technology (RDIT) invites web users worldwide to participate in surveys in their own language. RIWI bypasses national or sub-national web restrictions by leveraging its ownership, or temporary control, of hundreds of thousands of unused, expired, or abandoned web domains. As RIWI explains, web users often stumble across one of these unused domains while surfing the Internet. Often, this stumble takes users to a “404” or similar error page, but when users run across one of RIWI’s sites, they are instead invited to take part in a quick, anonymous survey. RIWI’s system auto-detects the user’s geographic location, which allows them to offer the survey in a relevant language and to geolocate (whenever possible) the respondent’s position.  RIWI’s method is useful in part because it circumvents government restrictions, as no other agency has a list of RIWI-controlled domains. The RIWI domain inventory, moreover, is constantly changing. As a result, RIWI’s survey work is particularly useful in countries such as China, where the government keeps tight control over...

Populism and Trump’s Rhetoric of Distrust for Multinationals

This article was originally published to On Global Leadership. Check out James Ron’s other writings there! President Trump has always been a fair-weather friend of multinational corporations, at one moment embracing them for political advantage and at the next shooting Twitter missives that trigger precipitous crashes in stock value. It’s a bittersweet friendship that lacks all the important elements: trust, respect and loyalty. One reason for the president’s infidelity is his long-held belief that working-class Americans dislike global corporations and, in particular, globalization. In many corners of the American electorate, corporations are viewed as the cause of all the U.S. industrial policies that have resulted in more automation, fewer jobs and reductions in wages over the last 40 years. At first blush, the presidential war of words does not appear to provide Trump with much of an electoral advantage. Indeed, dating back to President Reagan, the embrace of corporations, globalization and trickle-down economic theory – advocated by the neoclassical economist Milton Friedman – have long been a centerpiece of Republican politics. According to a nationally representative survey of 2,000 adults we conducted with the help of YouGov in late 2018, Republican respondents were indeed more trusting of multinationals than either Democrats or Independents. In our survey, we found that self-identified Republicans were a statistically significant 6% more likely to trust multinationals than Democrats and 15% more trusting than Independents. We found similar results when we compared early Trump supporters – defined as those who voted for him in the 2016 Republican primaries – to those who did not. Thus, although none of America’s political tribes has great love for these international corporate behemoths,...
Global Reputation of the Belt and Road Initiative, Part Two

Global Reputation of the Belt and Road Initiative, Part Two

In an earlier post, I wrote briefly about public opinion in the developing world towards China’s Belt and Road initiative. Much more remains to be said, and I’m going through the literature carefully to summarize what we know. Eventually, my company, Azimuth Social Research, will write a report with our colleagues at OnGlobalLeadership, a consulting and thought leadership firm specializing in China.  For the moment, I want to talk about US expert opinion towards China’s massive infrastructural investment in low-and-middle-income countries, as well as the US government’s nascent response.  US Experts’ Ambivalence Although there is plenty of public opinion data from Pew and others on the American public’s attitudes towards China in general, I have yet to find substantial data on US public attitudes towards the Belt and Road Initiative in particular. I’m still looking, but there doesn’t seem to be much. And if my own social and professional circles are anything to go by, most Americans have never even heard of BRI, making it hard to ask for their views. People in this country know that China is on the move economically but think mostly about its investments in the US and Europe, rather than in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa.  The US foreign policy community is a different beast, of course, as it is both socialized and paid to have well-formed opinions about this kind of thing. In 2016, a report by the Institute for China-America Studies “on the attitudes of strategic studies and international political economy experts” towards the Belt and Road Initiative suggested that “the overall response [of these experts] to BRI” was at...