President Bush's candidate for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, got a boost today with the release of a poll indicating that most Americans back his position on torture: it's ok to induce physical agony in individuals suspected of crimes, if it is for a good reason.
Support for torture highest among viewers of Fox News Channel
By Deanna Swift
A poll released this week shows that a majority of Americans share the position of President Bush's nominee for attorney general when it comes to torture: it's ok when done for the right reasons. Results of the poll are seen as an important boost to the candidacy of Alberto Gonzales, Bush's choice to replace the outgoing attorney general, John Ashcroft.
(Note: click thumbnails to enlarge poll images.)
The poll, based on 2,130 telephone interviews conducted over the past 2 weeks, found that 53% of Americans say that some torture is acceptable when used by "our guys" to extract information from "enemies." 37% said that they were opposed to torture, while 6% said that they had no opinion on the matter. Those results, say experts, show that the majority of Americans share an opinion that is more in line with the Bush administration than the liberal media would have us believe.
Pro Bush, pro torture
"It makes sense that you have roughly the same percentage of people supporting Bush that support torture," says Gary Schweid, an advisor to the White House on legal affairs. "While the media has really come down hard on Gonzales for his role in shaping the policy on torture, this poll shows that what we're talking about here is pretty mainstream stuff. I wouldn't be all that surprised to find that the same people who are torture opponents are also opposed to the war."
During his recent confirmation hearing, legislators from both parties peppered Gonzales with questions about a memo he wrote in which he referred to some provisions of the Geneva Convention that sets international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war as "quaint" and "obsolete."
Pollsters presented respondents with a list of 12 different methods of torture and asked them to rank each method on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being least preferable, 10 being most preferable. The methods surveyed included deprivation of sleep, food and water, "the rack," Chinese water torture, stoning, water dips, sham executions, electric shock and exposure to rap music played at excruciatingly loud volumes.
Deprivation of sleep, food and water proved to be the most popular variety of torture; 46% of respondents ranked these with a grade of '7' or above. "The rack" and Chinese water torture were the least popular, with 87% of respondents giving them a grade of '3' or below.
The Fox effect
Pollsters also collected data on television news shows watched by respondents and compared those with their attitudes on torture. Viewers of the Fox News Channel had the most favorable view of torture; 82% said torture is acceptable in "a wide range" of situations. Viewers of the debate show Hannity and Colmes viewed torture slightly more favorable than did viewers of the O'Reilly Factor: 92% of the respondents who identified as Hannity fans said they were "pro-torture," while 87% who said they spent time in the No Spin Zone gave torture a thumbs up.
Significantly, the Fox viewers were also more likely than Americans at large to approve of the most physically abusive forms of torture. Viewers of Hannity and Colmes, the O'Reilly Factor and Dayside with Linda Vester ranked their top torture varieties as electric shock, stoning and water dips.
Viewers of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, shown nightly on PBS, were more likely to view loud rap music and sleep deprivation as the torture varieties most offensive to them.
How this Polltronics poll was conducted
Samples for Polltronics polls are random digit samples of telephone numbers selected using the "probability proportionate to size" method, which means numbers from across the country are selected in proportion to the number of voters in each state.
A computer selects the first eight digits of an actual working number and then appends a two-digit random number to produce a random-digit dial (RDD) sample. An RDD sample allows for contacting not only listed and unlisted numbers, but also households with new numbers.
In order to ensure a distribution of ages and genders within households, the interviewer selects the respondent by asking to speak to the adult with the next birthday. Quotas are applied to ensure the sample mirrors the proportions of voters nationally. Specifically, the aim is for a gender split nationwide of 53% female / 47% male, as well as regional quotas.
The RDD selected phone numbers are sent to the interviewers through computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) software. Both the software and human supervisors monitor each step of the interviewing process. While calls are automatically dialed, the system does not use predictive dialing so prospective respondents always find a live interviewer when they answer their phone.
Deanna Swift can be reached at [email protected]