Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Friday, June 06, 2003
It Depends on what the Meaning of Trend Is

Conservoblogger Jim Miller has been reading the papers and detected, guess what, liberal bias. Not being a regular reader of Mr Miller's site, I know of this supremely unsurprising fact only because Instapundit has been reading Jim Miller and detected a persuasive argument. Looks like the right is 0 for 2.

Miller objects to reports like this which report that public opinion around the world is growing more negative towards the US. His principal point, which is correct, is that where data is available both for March (when the war was about to start or underway) and for late April/May, after the war ended, a bounce upward in opinions of the US is detectable. From this, he declares "the trend is in our favor", and criticizes the media for reporting otherwise.

Miller start off his discussion with a few lines that suggest right away number crunching may not be his forte:

This is, at the very best, misleadingly incomplete. Suppose a weatherman was reporting temperatures and had the following four daily highs (in Fahrenheit), 83, 75, 48, and 70. Would you think it a fair summary if the weatherman said that the weather was getting colder?

Rhetorical question or no, Jim, the answer is: Yes, I would, and so would anybody else with basic training in statisics and interpreting graphs. The 48 is way out of line with the other data and would be considered a probable anomaly, either freak conditions or measurement error. (This can sometimes lead scientists to dismiss what is in fact the most interesting number. The ozone hole, which was missed for years because scientists ignored funny numbers instead of asking why they were so funny, is a recent and prominent example, but that's another post.) So you draw a line through the other three numbers, and you get a trend: The weather is getting colder.

Now let's look at the data for the last 2 years. (I'm using this dataset, which contains only 2002 - 2003 results, so, unlike Jim, I'm not really examining 2000. I'm using the latest numers which, varying by country, stretch from late April to mid May. There are two obvious trends:

  • In every country but Pakistan (13 out of 14) where data for both years exist, the number viewing the US favorably has declined. In some cases the decline is dramatic: 61% to 36% in Russia, 61% to 15% in Indonesia, 25% to 1% in Jordan. In other cases it's mild: 75% to 70% in the UK. On average, and including the increase of 3% in Pakistan, the drop is 15.43%.
  • In every country, without exception, the numbers who view the US 'very unfavorably' is up.

Here's a table of the 'very unfavorable' stats:

Country2002 2003
Canada 8 13
Brazil 6 14
Gr Britain 4 12
France 8 19
Germany 4 12
Italy 5 11
Russia 6 23
Turkey 42 68
S Korea 7 11
Indonesia 9 48
Nigeria 5 21
Pakistan 58 71
Lebanon 38 48
Jordan 57 83

The average increase in very unfavorable is 22.8% for Islamic countries, 9.2% for others.

The poll is incomplete - I'd like some numbers for China, even if they weren't fully reliable, and excluding India seems a huge oversight. But where in the numbers we have the 'trend in our favor' can be found escapes me.

One other interesting point in the poll: Americans are returning the favor. The poll also compares US opinions of France, Britain, Canada, and Germany in 2002 and 2003. The most dramatic increase in negativity is unsurprisingly towards France, but very negative ratings for all four countries are up, while positive ratings for all four are down.