So did Clinton have intimate relations with Monica Lewinsky?
Volodymyr Paniotto, Director of the authoritative Kyiv International Institute of Sociology has pointed to one glaring omission in the recently passed Law on National Referendums. In an article entitled: “Did Clinton have intimate relations with Monica Lewinsky? Or on the importance of formulating questions in a referendum, he notes that the law which Yanukovych signed at the end of November is quite detailed about what can and can’t be put to a referendum vote. They have taken care, he says, to exclude amnesties or pardoning. The law also indicates who can initiate a referendum, how the election commissions are formed, etc.
What there is nothing about is how the questions are formulated.
The author recounts how two surveys were carried out in the USA in the period before Clinton admitted to having had relations with Lewinsky. The question was that above each time, however in the Yankelovych survey respondents could answer yes, no or hard to say. In the CBS survey it was either yes or no. The differences are staggering:
Hard to say
He asks the reader to imagine how one would use this information if you wanted to oust President Clinton. You need to formulate the question as follows: What do you think, did Clinton have intimate relations with Monica Lewinsky and should he be removed from office?” Then give only two possibilities: yes or no.
The author stresses that there are an enormous number of typical mistakes when formulating questions: bias in the question; lack of balance in the scale; not a full range of possible answers; leading questions, etc. All these can, of course, be used to manipulate the results.
If you’re intent on legalizing sale of land, ask whether privatization should be carried out through auction or through shares, not leaving people any option of saying that they’re against privatization per se.
An important principle for those carrying out opinion surveys is not to use terms many people don’t understand. The latter seldom refuse to answer questions they don’t understand.
Questions must be phrased clearly without two many words, etc etc.
Mr Paniotto then asks the reader whether they think such requirements are met when running referendums in Ukraine.
He cites the first question of the “All-Ukrainian Referendum by the People’s Initiative of 16 April 2000, though notes that he was unable to find any evidence of this “people’s initiative”. The question takes up 10 lines regarding the President’s authority to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada early. It is not difficult to understand why 85% of those who voted supported it. Paniotto says that he admits not even remembering being asked, and says that by the end of the question he had forgotten the beginning.
He adds that the results were “probably rigged”, but that this concerned question No. 4 of the referendum on a two-house parliament, whereas the first question did actually get 85% support. He adds that studies have found that people are in general inclined to answer yes, and if they’re asked about something they don’t much understand, with reference to laws they don’t know, all the more so.
The author explains about strict rules and standards for referendums and surveys in general. He adds that he did not find anything of the sort in the law recently passed, while the example from the 2000 referendum demonstrates either sociological illiteracy or deliberate infringement of all rules in order to get the result desired.
Without such procedure and rules, referendums will not establish the will of the people but foist upon them the laws which those organizing them want.
The article was originally published on Ukrainska Pravda
There has been considerable protest over the law signed by the President into force in late November. The reasons are outlined in Bypassing the Constitution and the appeal calling on the President to veto the law. This opposition, it should be said, is not shared by Vsevolod Rechytsky in Some thoughts regarding the law on referendums