Sunday, December 23, 2012

an internet survey

An opinion poll was widely reported last month as evidence that 55% of Syrians think President Bashar al-Assad should not resign. But does the claim stand up to scrutiny?

The world is watching Syria, where every day there are new scenes of horror as the violence between protesters and the regime's security forces continues.

Against this backdrop, some commentators have picked up on a striking statistic - that 55% of Syrians want President Assad to stay in power.

In a column in the UK's Guardian newspaper, the statistic was used to suggest that the Western media was mis-reporting the situation in Syria, suppressing "inconvenient facts" for the purposes of propaganda.

The statistic has been reported widely elsewhere, from the New York Times, to Al Jazeera (in Arabic) Iranian owned Press TV, and Syrian news sites.

It was an internet survey of the Arab world by YouGov Siraj in December. It covered just more than 1,000 people in 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The central question was: "In your opinion should Syria's President Assad resign?"

Across the whole region, the overall finding was that 81% of people polled thought President Assad should go.

But the polling company also stated: "Respondents in Syria are more supportive of their president. 55% do not believe Assad should resign."

Looking closely at the survey report, it does not say explicitly how many of the 1,000 people who responded were from Syria. But it does say that 211 were polled in the Levant region, 46% of whom were in Syria.

Doing the sums, this suggests that only 97 people took part. When the BBC checked with YouGov Siraj for the exact breakdown, the company said that in fact there were 98 respondents from Syria (the difference arising from the fact that averages given in the survey report were rounded).

This is a very low sample according to the managing director of survey company ORB, Johnny Heald, who has been carrying out polls in the Middle East for many years.

"When we poll and we want to find out what Libyans think, or what Syrians think, we would rarely do anything less than 1,000 interviews," he says.

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