Obama, Don’t Take This Public Opinion Poll Too Seriously

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The Pew Research Center recently published yet another poll on the public’s opinion of President Obama’s foreign policy activity, entitled “Fewer Americans Think Obama Respected on World Stage.” It’s interesting to see how Americans view our own involvement in world politics, but ultimately, these polls are pointless. They mean very little. There was another one in February from Gallup that stated, “Fewer Americans Think Obama Respected on World Stage.” What these polls ultimately tell us is both narrow and, in ways, not as important or surprising as you might think.

Sampling Error and Phrasing

First of all, public opinion polls can sometimes be a bit like predicting the weather before satellites: unreliable. Are they measuring what they say they’re measuring? Are the questions phrased in such a way that they might result in biased answers? The Pew Research Center clearly says that this is the case in an added note at the end, but Gallup’s poll is especially guilty of this. Looking at the questions posed by Pew, most seem to come across as more objective than Gallup’s; “respect” is a rather difficult term to define. However, both polls give Obama’s name a place of honor in their phrasing, meaning they’ll inevitably find out as much about America’s views of Obama as foreign policy.

And what about sampling error? The sampling error is plus or minus 4 percent for the Gallup poll. Given that it records those who believe Obama is not respected by leaders of other countries at 53 percent and those who believe he is respected by foreign leaders at 41 percent, 4 percent is rather a lot. That could be 41 and 49 percent, or 45 and 53 percent depending on how the error is applied. Four percent is 33 percent of the difference between the two polling results. For the sample group of moderate to liberal Republicans, the Pew Research Center had a possible error margin of 10.8 percent, though only 2.9 percent for the total sample size.