AC NIELSON/DEMOCRACY INTERNATIONAL OPINION POLLS
Polls can be read in different waysby David Bergman
I THINK Syeed and I do agree on at least one thing. The polls provide no clear understanding of what has caused the BNP surge in the opinion polls. As he says, ‘the reasons behind the swings in political supports are anyone’s guess.’
However, he goes onto say at the very end of the article—and with this I don’t agree—that ‘Bergman’s observations about Shahbagh’s role in it are... refuted by the very statistics he published.’
Before discussing Syeed’s specific points, I should say that this last paragraph does rather misrepresent what my op-ed states.
I didn’t make any observations about the role of ‘Shahbagh’ per se — and it is wrong to suggest that I did. My observations were about post-Molla developments, which included not only Shahbagh but also, very importantly, bloggers, BNP media attacks, and rise of Hefajat.
As to Syeed’s particular points, his first criticism is that ‘“four war crimes trials convictions” cannot be the cause behind the swing towards the BNP, since 86 per cent of the respondents said that they personally wanted the currently active war crimes trials to proceed.’
Well, I didn’t say anywhere in the articles that it did.
Nonetheless, I do disagree that the poll data only allows for the interpretation he gives to it. It is just as plausible to argue that it is the voters’ view about the unfairness of the trials—rather than their views on whether the trials should proceed—which is a more likely indicator of party support.
Clearly since the BNP is, according to the July 2013 poll, leading the Awami League by 11 points, there is certainly no obvious cross-over between supporting the trials and support for the Awami League, and perhaps—and I emphasise just perhaps—it is criticisms of the fairness of the trials (maybe because the government is seen to be responsible for the unfairness that they perceive) that roll over into criticism of the Awami League.
It is notable, in this context, to mention that the major public criticisms of the tribunal with the Skype scandal took place in early December 2012.
Syeed’s second criticism is my observation that ‘possibly’ the BNP surge could be linked to the BNP winning the ‘ideological war’ where BNP-supporting media ‘turn[ed] the Shahbagh debate into one about Islam.’
It is true that between the November 2012 and January 2013 polls, the BNP rose from 20 per cent to 32 per cent, and so nothing in Shahbagh and subsequent events (which took place from February 2013 onwards) could explain that leap, but there is no reason why ideological issues around Islam —which, of course, includes the rise of Hefajat that Syeed does not mention at all—could not have influenced the subsequent leap from 32 to 43 per cent between January and July 2013.
Syeed also seems to misunderstand (perhaps my fault, not his) what I meant by ‘ideological wars’. I meant the idea about how people might define the way in which one would think about ‘Bangladesh’ — whether the defining discourse should be a distinction between ‘pro- or anti-liberation’ (which helps the Awami League) or between ‘pro- or anti-Islam’ (which seems to help the BNP).
The fact that only 19 per cent thought that the purpose of the Shahbagh movement was ‘anti-Islamist’, or people’s views that Shahbagh would have minimal effect on the election, does not mean that the attacks on Shahbagh by the BNP-supporting media, the anti-blogger rhetoric and then the rise of Hefajat did not change what became the dominant discourse, which filtered through to a greater level of support for the BNP.
Thirdly, Syeed criticises my ‘claim’ that ‘nearly twice as many people were against, rather than in favour, of the Shahbagh movement’ since people were not asked their opinion of Shahbagh but whether their friends and family supported Shahbagh.
I agree with him that the phrase at the beginning of the article—which was simply trying to summarise the results—could have been more precisely written (though it would have been much wordier!), but further down in the article the exact question that was asked of respondents was clearly detailed.
Syeed goes onto suggest that ‘Hypothetically, it’s possible for most respondents to support the movement, and at the same time presume that their friends and family doesn’t support it.’ Well, hypothetically he might be right, but it is probably unlikely. And in any case asking the question about the opinion held by family and friends (of a representative sample of people) is a common polling technique to find out people’s own opinions on what are perceived to be sensitive subjects.
Whilst Syeed is right to say that the poll results could be read in different ways—if he had couched his comments in that way I would have agreed with him—I would respectfully argue that my observations are ‘refuted by the very statistics he published.’
David Bergman is editor, special reports, at New Age.
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NEW Age has recently published a series of news articles based on the findings of five periodic polls conducted by AC Nielsen and Democracy International. The articles present some interesting evidence to... Full story
I THINK Syeed and I do agree on at least one thing. The polls provide no clear understanding of what has caused the BNP surge in the opinion polls. As he says, ‘the reasons behind the swings in political supports are anyone’s guess.’ Full story