Sunday, 26 July 2009

Rule of thumb: 10% of the public will believe anything

Greg Weeks is somewhat surprised by some of the numbers that Gallup found in a survey of Latin Americans in 2008 regarding the likelihood of their country experiencing a military coup:

Honduras had the second highest percentage of people (29%) who agreed that the country was moving toward a coup (behind Bolivia at 36%).

Those countries are not surprising. But 11% of Chileans? And 14% of Colombians? And then 11% in Costa Rica, where the military was abolished before most of its citizens were even born?

I’m not particularly surprised by these numbers. Not so much because the region is inherently unstable, or even because media coverage of events elsewhere perhaps has had a fear-inducing effect, much as the media hysteria surrounding the disappearances of random white teenage girls or the omnipresence of Chris Hansen has fed public fears well out of proportion to the actual threats to children and young adults.

Instead, because an appreciable percentage of the public falls into one of the following categories: having difficulty understanding the questions being posed; really, really wanting the interviewer to shut up and leave them alone; or genuinely holding rather crazy beliefs. To identify one example, approximately 6% of Americans believe the Apollo moon landings were staged, an idea far more preposterous (to my mind at least) than the idea that Colombia might experience a coup in the not-so-distant future.

It’s also possible there were some contextual effects in the survey that aren’t clear from Gallup’s description of it. It seems likely the question was posed in the same survey reported here on self-perceptions as “socialist” or “capitalist,” which may have had the effect of priming the responses of the interviewees—to say nothing of whether or not the typical democratic citizen understands the labels “capitalist” or “socialist” in any meaningful way. By emphasizing this area of conflict the survey may have led respondents to believe left-right conflict in their nations is more salient than it really was, and thus that military intervention might happen.

And, finally, while Costa Rica lacks formal armed forces, the country’s Fuerza Pública and separate special forces detachment sound a lot like military forces to me—and certainly could function sufficiently like one to toss Oscar Arias on a plane headed elsewhere if they were so inclined.

So to my mind it really isn’t overly surprising that a sizable percentage of average Chileans, Costa Ricans, and Colombians—particularly those who are disengaged from politics—would reportedly be willing to agree with the proposition their country is headed towards a coup.

(Updated to clarify that Costa Rica’s Fuerza Pública and special forces are separate from each other.)


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. Steven Taylor wrote @ Sun, 26 Jul 2009, 9:10 pm CDT:

I was thinking of writing a similar post, but now I don’t have to :)


You’re not alone. When I visit OTB, I think that multiple times per day.

Although I think Honduras (or shall I say #Honduras) probably deserves some OTB exposure at this point since many of the readers are probably just being exposed to idiotic talking points at their other haunts.

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