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Polls as Persuasion Instruments in Public Diplomacy: A Case Study of"Guerrilla Polls"in Syria

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Abstract

This case study of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) performing public opinion polling examines the role of a non-state actor in public diplomacy. Two polls conducted in Syria during 2010 and 2011 by the Democracy Council employed insufficiently rigorous technique to accurately assess commonly held beliefs, leading to a supposition that they constituted tools in a persuasion campaign. The use of poll results by an NGO that may influence perceptions of the Syrian regime complicates public diplomacy. The validity of the polls was tested in two ways. First, comparison of the methodology as described in the poll reports and media statements by the pollsters with standards established by professional polling organizations disclosed significant departures from generally accepted standards in areas of poll construction, sampling, and analysis. Second, statements made by the pollsters following release of the polls were analyzed for consistency with the actual poll reports and were via the Google search engine to determine dispersal. The analysis of media reports showed that the pollsters made claims for the polls not supported by their data. The persistence of language taken from the original press report evidenced wide dispersal across the Internet. The failure to adhere to accepted standards, extravagant claims made for the poll, and the diffusion analysis support an inference that the poll was conducted for argumentative purposes.

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