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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Nearly two thirds of Americans say torture can be justified

The results of a Newsweek Poll conducted between 10 and 11 November 2005 are shown in the table below. Please note the wording of the questions, which is discussed in the comments section (thanks to Tedeger for pointing this out).

"Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, can sometimes be justified, can rarely be justified, or can never be justified?"
Often Sometimes Rarely Never
justified justified justified justified Unsure
% % % % %
Republicans 25 34 14 24 3
Democrats 11 25 20 40 4
Independents 17 25 21 31 6
All adults 17 27 18 33 5

"Would you support the use of torture by U.S. military or intelligence personnel if it might lead to the prevention of a major terrorist attack, or not?"
Would support Would not support Unsure
% % %
58 35 7

"What if the use of torture by the United States makes it more likely that Americans will be tortured by our enemies? Would you support the use of torture under these circumstances, or not?"
Would support Would not support Unsure
% % %
36 57 7

"Do you think the recent allegations about the use of torture by the United States have hurt this country's image around the world a lot, somewhat, not too much, or not at all?"
A lot Somewhat Not too much Not at all Unsure
% % % % %
39 34 13 10 4

file under: Public support

2 Comments:

Blogger tedeger said...

Didn't anyone notice that EVERY ONE of these questions was of the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" type? They did not even attempt to get an answer to the straight out question, "Do you personally approve of torture?" If they had asked that question, I will wager that the answers would have been somewhat different. The questions were carefully crafted to elicit the answers they got. It's excellent propaganda, but hardly evocative of the actual opinions of the American Public.

12/12/05 9:01 am  
Blogger elendil said...

Thank you for an excellect comment! I have added a comment at the top of this post to highlight your excellent point.

I agree that the wording of the question is very important. I noticed a few places simply quoted the statistics. I was careful to get the exact wording of the questions right, verbatim, so that people could judge for themselves the meaning of the stats.

In this case, q1 and q2 both specify that the torture would "gain important intelligence" and prevent a "major terrorist attack". Therefore, I think you make a valid point that bears emphasising. These questions present a false dichotomy: either torture someone or let lots of people die in an attack. A much better question would be the one that includes the ambiguity of the intelligence gained, and the possibility that an innocent would be tortured. That would be a better reflection of what the American people want as policy.

That said, I have noticed a number of torture-apologists using the "ticking timb-bomb" scenario to justify their position. It is a similarly narrow dichotomy. One does not make policy on the basis of one extraordinary situation, but by weighing up the total effect.

hardly evocative of the actual opinions of the American Public.

I certainly hope you are right. It would be a great loss to humanity if our only super-power took this route.

12/12/05 10:47 am  

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