Zogby, Soros, Buffet and Me

Getting a Zogby poll is always an interesting experience. Even though it purportedly wants my opinion, in truth it tells more about Zogby and the media than about what Americans think.
Today’s IBOPE/Zogby poll was particularly intriguing for its topic and length. It didn’t have questions about President Obama or Republican presidential candidates. It was almost exclusively about billionaires.
Zogby begins with asking “When you think of the name X, what is the first thing that comes to mind? There was a blank space to comment on the following: George Soros, David and Charles Koch, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg.
This was an irresistible offering. For instance: Soros – Whackjob uber leftist with a Dr. Evil complex; Bloomberg – Moneybags mayor of New York bent on a Nanny state; you get the picture. After that comes how you rate them: Very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, etc.
Next, “When you hear the term billionaire please rate on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being not at all and 5 being extremely, how accurate each term is in best describing your reactions: genius, shrewd, greedy, ruthless, blessed, lucky, selfish, leader, role model, corrupt. No preconceptions there, eh?
A few questions on their responsibilities and a chart for me to evaluate whether these guys are patriotic, Democrat or Republican and the values most important to me (pick two). Then a query as to whether conspiracy theories reflect where there’s smoke there’s fire or they are the figment of peoples’ imaginations. Oddly, I think there might be more choices in life than that.
Having jumped through all those questions, the lengthiest part was still to come. Call it the Rudyard Kipling experience. Everything began, like his famous poem, with the word “if.” The actual questions follow with my theoretical answers.
“If Warren Buffett pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to charity, would that make you more favorable to him?” Me: Depends on how much he gave me.
“If you knew that George Soros has spent much of his fortune and his adult life fighting authoritarian and totalitarian regimes – from fighting apartheid in South Africa to fighting communism behind the Iron Curtain – would that make you more favorable to him?” Me: No, since the “spooky dude” wants to impose his own totalitarian regime as bad as theirs.
“If you knew that Mark Zuckerberg’s social media Facebook has been praised as being a key spark in the spread and organization of the pro democracy revolts that have recently taken place in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries across the Middle East, would that make you more favorable?” Me: Where was he two years ago in Iran and who says democracy has taken root in these places? The Muslim Brotherhood seems to have taken top spot in polls for Egypt’s fall election.
“If you knew George Soros has invested millions of dollars over many years in Baltimore on comprehensive approaches to that city’s problems and that he contributed $35 million at the worst part of the recession to make it possible for every family with kids in New York to get $200 for school supplies, would that make him more favorable” Whoa! Cue the violins! It’s for the children, after all! And there are no strings attached?
“If you knew that Charles and David Koch fight to ensure that environmental regulations don’t impede economic growth or job creation and to ensure that all voices are heard on the science of climate change, would that…” No. I expect that Republicans and savvy businessmen also want clean air, jobs and scientific truth.
“If you knew that George Soros opposed the bank bailout and has spoken out against excessive bank bonuses, would that…” No. Soros and his vast network played a role in our economic problems. He’s known for crashing the currencies in Britain and Thailand to his own advantage. Ditto here.
“If you knew that Michael Bloomberg serves as mayor of New York City and is an independent who solves problems based on accountability, evidence and innovation, would you…” What is this? Isn’t that the job of any mayor?
I noticed as I proceeded in the poll that the percentage I had completed didn’t grow, but went back and forth. For instance, I’d have completed 53%; after the next question I had completed 35%. It was almost as if they kept feeding me questions to get the answers they wanted. If I didn’t see it favorably, I got some more examples of billionaire genius and generosity. Then I’d give the answer they wanted. So the “Ifs” kept coming.
“If you knew that, as a teenager, George Soros spent his time hiding from the Nazis in his native Hungary and later studied economics while working nights as a waiter and that he came to the U.S. where he became a citizen and made his fortune as a successful investor, would I…” Well, if he hadn’t rejected his Judaism, reportedly turning in other Jews to the Nazis and since then opposed Israel, it might be influential. Instead, I know the truth about him.
“If you knew that Warren Buffett lived in the same house for over 50 years and is noted for having other very frugal habits, would you…” Not particularly. Perhaps he just hates moving and besides, he probably has homes all over the world.
On and on it went. Finally, I was asked to rate them again, returning to the very favorable, favorable, etc. choices.
Three statements followed with agree or disagree designation. “Spending one’s own money on political causes is a form of free speech. Government should be allowed to regulate and limit personal political spending. How much would I be willing to contribute to pay off the debt.”
Finally the info on me. How often do I go to Walmart? Church? Do I like Nascar? Investor or union member?
It all seemed about image in this poll, not substance, ideology or facts.
If is a pretty thin word to hang a poll around, I think.
If the poll would allow more answers; If the media reported the facts; If he took true cross sections… And – which is more – you’d be a pollster, Mr. Z.

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