Truth as Victim: Questions on Recent Polls on Egypt
An article entitled, ’Report shows most Egyptians oppose Morsi’s removal’ is making the rounds, and for obvious reasons, is being promoted by pro-Morsi campaigners, as well as being denounced by anti-Morsi campaigners. In this climate of bitter and deep polarisation, the truth remains the victim – and one that at least we ought to try to save.
There are a few things here to ask in any poll: first, who has done it? Secondly, what methodology do they use? And third, what corroborating information do we have to contextualise its results?
The article refers to a poll that was done by the ‘Egyptian Centre for Media Studies and Public Opinion’. Over the last few years, I’ve been in contact with different polling companies in Egypt, both before and after being a senior practice consultant at the Gallup Organisation, and I’ve never come across this institution before. I opted to ask several colleagues who have been involved in the polling industry in Egypt for over a decade (some as competitors to each other), and none of them had come across this company before. Despite having a similar title to ‘Baseera’ (a known entity in the polling industry), it is a completely separate entity.
Onto the methodology of the poll: the website does not provide the sampling procedures that the polling company actually utilised. That’s not necessarily mandatory, but it does not add to the credibility of the poll. We also do not have a great deal of information about the questionnaire: were these open-ended questions, or multiple choice, for example?
It is not entirely clear whether the interviews were carried out in person (face-to-face) or by telephone; all that we are told is that 3,814 interviews were carried out on July 4 and July 5. If they were carried out face-to-face, nation wide, then this would necessitate a truly magnificent feat on the side of the polling organisation in question: no company I have ever come across in Egypt is able to even do field research of that magnitude (in a country the size of Egypt) in less than a couple of weeks, let alone do it in a couple of days. If the interviews were carried out by telephone, this is still quite a feat of manpower (and that is assuming the accuracy of phone polls, which are generally discounted in Egypt except under very specific conditions). If the company is able to have done such a monumental undertaking, one would have assumed that such capacity would have made it the envy and pride of the polling industry, as opposed to being so secretive, no-one I have contacted knows of it. In any case, even if they had the capacity to do so, surely the fact that millions of Egyptians were still out on the streets (both pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi) would have made such a task even more difficult to carry out, if not impossible?
All of those questions are rather critical. Opponents of the poll, however, who wish to insist that the overwhelming majority of the population do support the military takeover on July 3, ought to be cautious – unless they have information to back it up. At the moment, there is no verifiable poll that exists on this question. What we do have are polls that indicate the unpopularity of President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party with the majority of Egyptians. Consistent with that, we also have polls that show over the past three years, the military has been incredibly popular – the lowest recorded percentage of Egyptians who expressed confidence in the military was in the high 80s, at the height of anti-SCAF demonstrations in 2011/2012. Does that automatically translate to overwhelming support of the takeover on July 3? No, it does not – but it certainly calls into question any assertion that the majority opposed that takeover – rightly or wrongly.
The aforementioned poll very well could have the right results: all is possible. But these questions, and the existing context, have to be dealt with aggressively, if that is indeed the case.
Dr H.A. Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, and relations between the Muslim world and the west. Fellow at ISPU, he was previously senior practice consultant at Gallup, and senior research fellow at Warwick University. Find him online @hahellyer and www.hahellyer.com.
This article was published by Tahrir Squared on July 13, 2013. Read it here.