A Dishonest Representation of One Poll: “Most Syrians back President Assad”:
Engaging in debates on the crisis in Syria, I came across a claim I found both new and startling, that most Syrians support Assad based on the findings of a recent poll by YouGov Siraj. This struck me as a misrepresentation of the poll, a misrepresentation finding its way onto a “comment is free” piece in the Guardian. The result was that 55% didn’t want him to resign, a main reason cited was fear for the future of the country.
But not wanting Assad to resign is very different from “backing” him. But this could easily become a dispute of semantics. Fortunately, I found the full report issued with the relevant poll, and it isn’t as simple as this 55% number being wielded against Syria’s revolutionaries:
“Interestingly, those who do not think President Assad should resign do not really want him to stay in power either as over half of them (51%) believe it is best for Syria if he remains in power but with the guarantee of free democratic elections in the near future.”
This isn’t exactly a display of loyalty to Assad but a public concerned with stability rather than preserving the Assad presidency.
Now, I was tempted to deconstruct this poll but decided against it for two reasons. The first reason is because the job has already been more effectively done by Brian Whitaker on his personal blog – turns out the poll asked just 97 internet users in Syria, hardly a substitute for actual democratic elections. The second reason is more important for me. I wish to confront the logic behind misrepresenting this flawed polled.
The logic behind the argument is to shroud Assad with a measure of legitimacy, as still a player in deciding the resolution of this conflict. I suppose we are meant to believe this legitimacy is reached by edging just above the 50% mark in the polls. Fall to 49% and suddenly you’re an illegitimate tyrant. This is an absurd way to address the crisis. A president’s job isn’t just to maintain approval among a majority of his constituents. A president’s job is to protect every citizen, even his political opponents, from destruction. There is no poll capable of measuring how much Assad has failed in this crucial task, for he has participated in the destruction of his own people. A 99% approval rating for Assad wouldn’t bring the thousands he’s killed back to life.