What does the Pew poll actually tell us?

The establishment media has been giddy this week reporting the results of a recently-released Pew Research Center poll which finds support for suicide bombings declining in parts of the Muslim world. This trend in itself should be heartening, and it can probably be tied to the fact that since 2002, when the last Pew poll to measure results on this question was taken, Muslims themselves have become the largest group of victims of this bloody tactic by their fellow co-religionists.

But what does this poll really tell us? There are some statistical reasons for some skepticism. As Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser notes in an NRO symposium on the Pew poll, "Suicide Reversal?", the results are "dangerously oversimplified". Indeed, the devil is in the details.

What's most striking is that no follow-up question was asked by Pew. One recent study that asked about suicide bombings in a real-world context, in addition to the hypothetical, was the December 2006 Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) report, which polled American and Iranian opinions on a number of questions.

The PIPA poll  posed a question similar to Pew (though I have previously noted there are a few methodological problems with the PIPA study, "Lies, Damned Lies, and CAIR's Statistics"):

Q-I23: Some people think that bombing and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified while others think that this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that such attacks are often justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?

                                                                                         Iranians              Americans

Often justified.........................................................               3%                   5%

Sometimes justified..................................................              8                      19

Rarely justified.........................................................              5                      27

Never justified........................................................                80                    46

Refused/Don't know................................................              5                      2


This, of course, makes Americans out to be bloodthirsty terror supporters - a point some Islamist apologists have attempted to draw. But when you look at the following question, it reveals a startling shift in Iranian opinions:

Q-I24: For each of the following types of attacks please tell me if you personally feel that these are sometimes justified or never justified?

Q-I24a: attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians?

                                                                                       Iranians             Americans
Sometimes justified................................................                53                    13

Never justified........................................................                41                    80

Refused/Don't know................................................              7                      7


When put in the real world context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Iranian attitudes shifted dramatically. In the first question, 80 percent of Iranians said suicide bombings would never be justified. But the very next question finds that 53 percent of Iranians would justify suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians, which seems to nullify, or at least call into question, the findings of the previous question. Also worth noting are the 13 percent of Americans who also justify bombings against Israeli civilians.

The devil is in the details, details the Pew researchers apparently weren't interested in discovering. Dr. Jasser's skepticism and his warning of the "dangerously oversimplified" results of the Pew study on this issue of support for suicide bombings in the Muslim world have some basis in fact, as shown in the earlier PIPA results. The Pew poll might be telling us something, but Pew has not bothered to ask enough questions to find out exactly what that is.

The establishment media has been giddy this week reporting the results of a recently-released Pew Research Center poll which finds support for suicide bombings declining in parts of the Muslim world. This trend in itself should be heartening, and it can probably be tied to the fact that since 2002, when the last Pew poll to measure results on this question was taken, Muslims themselves have become the largest group of victims of this bloody tactic by their fellow co-religionists.

But what does this poll really tell us? There are some statistical reasons for some skepticism. As Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser notes in an NRO symposium on the Pew poll, "Suicide Reversal?", the results are "dangerously oversimplified". Indeed, the devil is in the details.

What's most striking is that no follow-up question was asked by Pew. One recent study that asked about suicide bombings in a real-world context, in addition to the hypothetical, was the December 2006 Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) report, which polled American and Iranian opinions on a number of questions.

The PIPA poll  posed a question similar to Pew (though I have previously noted there are a few methodological problems with the PIPA study, "Lies, Damned Lies, and CAIR's Statistics"):

Q-I23: Some people think that bombing and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified while others think that this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that such attacks are often justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?

                                                                                         Iranians              Americans

Often justified.........................................................               3%                   5%

Sometimes justified..................................................              8                      19

Rarely justified.........................................................              5                      27

Never justified........................................................                80                    46

Refused/Don't know................................................              5                      2


This, of course, makes Americans out to be bloodthirsty terror supporters - a point some Islamist apologists have attempted to draw. But when you look at the following question, it reveals a startling shift in Iranian opinions:

Q-I24: For each of the following types of attacks please tell me if you personally feel that these are sometimes justified or never justified?

Q-I24a: attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians?

                                                                                       Iranians             Americans
Sometimes justified................................................                53                    13

Never justified........................................................                41                    80

Refused/Don't know................................................              7                      7


When put in the real world context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Iranian attitudes shifted dramatically. In the first question, 80 percent of Iranians said suicide bombings would never be justified. But the very next question finds that 53 percent of Iranians would justify suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians, which seems to nullify, or at least call into question, the findings of the previous question. Also worth noting are the 13 percent of Americans who also justify bombings against Israeli civilians.

The devil is in the details, details the Pew researchers apparently weren't interested in discovering. Dr. Jasser's skepticism and his warning of the "dangerously oversimplified" results of the Pew study on this issue of support for suicide bombings in the Muslim world have some basis in fact, as shown in the earlier PIPA results. The Pew poll might be telling us something, but Pew has not bothered to ask enough questions to find out exactly what that is.