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Printer Friendly Page Breakthroughs for Public-Interest Polling ~ #56

Breakthroughs for Public-Interest Polling ~ #56

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
2006, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
Jan. 5, 2006

Public-interest polling organizations, Globescan and PIPA, two days apart produced two different but somewhat related historic openings that promise a better world.

First. Globescan (formerly Environics) with offices in London, Toronto, and Washington, led by Doug Miller, on Dec. 15, 2005, released new survey findings conducted by research partners in 20 leading countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and the United States. This was the latest of four annual surveys, all sponsored by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Davos meetings attract top representatives of the world's largest corporations and governments. In each country and in each year from 2001 through 2005, the surveys have asked the same "yes" or "no" question:

"Do you trust [institution] to operate in the best interests of our society?"

The institutions separately tested, (1) non-governmental organizations (NGOs), (2) the United Nations, (3) large local companies, (4) the national government, and (5) global companies, are no doubt the big players on the world stage. Depending on how dominant or how weak these players are determines the degree to which a country can be considered capitalist, socialist, communist, fascist and possibly systems as yet unnamed. Note that (2), the United Nations, is a unique post-1945 social innovation in existence 60 years without a competitor. Currently there are 190 national governments, and worldwide about a million NGOs, a million local companies, and 1,000 global companies. Here is the 20th century historical and definitional connection between the strengths of the four institutional players and the common national system:

 

System

I (3) and (5) Corporations strong Capitalism
II (4) Government and (1) NGOs strong Socialism
III NGOs strong, government not so strong Communism
IV Government and corporations strong Fascism
   All vulnerable to takeover (I less so.) Dictatorship

Why did the Davos meetings cough up millions of dollars four years running to get the answers to this simple question from the people in leading countries around the world? Very simple. Globally, corporate executives now understand the potentially disastrous vulnerability of their brand names to customer loss of confidence that may explode at any time. On the government side, many country leaders fear growing mistrust of themselves by their citizens that also could become explosive. Corporate or governmental, they may be vulnerable but they are not stupid. They are paying for and getting important information.

In all four surveys in all countries (with a few minor exceptions) public approval, expressed as the percent of the people answering the simple question "yes" minus the percent answering "no" is shown in Table 1 in rank order of public approval.

Table 1. Percent "yes" minus percent "no"
 

Year 2005

Year 2001

1. non-governmental organizations

29

38

2. the United Nations

13

n.a.

3. large local companies

2

8

4. the national government

-9

-3

5. global companies

-15

-8

Two conclusions are clear. One is that approval of each of the five institutions by people in major countries is significantly less in 2005 than it was in 2001.

Another is that the further down the list of five players ranked in order of public approval as above, the greater is the political and financial strength of the player. Non-government organizations are weakest; the UN less so; etc. Global companies (multi-national corporations in American lingo) are the strongest.

These Globescan public-interest surveys show that the people in most leading countries mistrust the strong more than the weak, and know well the de facto political and financial strength of the big players. A bright light has been shed on the most fundamental global issues the world faces: the public's trust of the players that determine the kind of a country people would trust. Thank you, Doug Miller, for closing the feedback loop that makes this information public. (Learn more from www.globescan.com/news_archives/WEF_trust2005.html)

Second. The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), directed by Steven Kull, University of Maryland, participated in a Dec. 13, 2005, forum in Washington on conflict prevention and resolution. The big breakthrough was hard evidence that public-interest polling could resolve many of the world's most intractable conflicts.

Top leaders in many countries, particularly in Africa, are engaged in potentially violent conflicts for control of their country or, if further along in the process, lead protracted conflicts producing thousands of deaths and enormous devastation through much or all of their country. Teams of NGO organizations specializing in conflict resolution, often sponsored or authorized by the United Nations, can bring the leaders of the warring parties together with highly developed methods that often succeed in reducing the conflict. How can public-interest polling help in these circumstances?

When two (or sometimes more) warring leaders are brought face-to-face to stake out their conflicting claims and justifications to the NGO team, the leaders often back up their positions by saying or assuming that the people support them. They mean by "the people" not only their factions but often all the people in the country. They live inside a bubble, surrounded by yes-men, supporters, and sycophants, that in time leads them into this highly unreal but comforting view of people's support.

The new idea is that a competent pollster (or two) with native language skills, acting as part of the NGO team, can draw from the recalcitrant leaders their specific beliefs of public support and, as a helpful expert, assist them in phrasing survey questions whose answers the leaders make clear to the NGO team are going to confirm their own beliefs. On a time scale of a week or so the pollster can conduct surveys that help open up all previous discussions to new ways for the NGO team to reconcile the conflicted leaders.

All this may seem theoretical and open to a variety of snags, and so it may be. But specific experiences by PIPA in the Middle East have had positive results presented by Steve Kull at the Washington forum. Kull was joined by Colin Irwin, a Research Fellow at Queen's University Belfast, who used these new polling methods to play a significant role in the Northern Ireland peace process and achieve other successes elsewhere. (learn more from www.pipa.org and www.sfcg.org)

What do the successes of Doug Miller and Steve Kull have in common? Both have taken public-interest polling to a new level by finding and serving normally rare instances of great potential importance where unusual beneficiaries of good polling can get what they badly need to know in Miller's case, top global corporate executives and government leaders of leading countries, and in Kull's case dangerously conflicted dictators. Both Miller and Kull are to be commended for the operating business models they have adopted that allow them to make their findings known publicly which can enhance viral marketing.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am an advisor to Steve Kull.

>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

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