Pollster Gallup admitted on March 28 that three decades of polling data contain fundamental flaws "well beyond what we would attribute to normal sampling error."
Gallup’s admission centers on its high-stakes question of whether Americans have greater sympathy for Israelis or for Palestinians. Gallup loudly trumpeted that Americans "increasingly sympathized with Israel in recent years." U.S. based Israel affinity organizations and the Congressional Research Service long used Gallup sympathy polls to claim that most Americans support giving most of the US foreign aid budget to Israel.
Gallup attributes its sudden admission of error to "an analysis of [Gallup] World Affairs surveys and other surveys conducted at about the same time indicate this is not the case."
Gallup’s reevaluation may have been triggered by more than its own polling and cited polling done by CNN and Pew Research. In both 2018 and 2019 IRmep paid to field Gallup’s precisely worded polling question through the highly accurate Google Surveys representative polling service. The analysis of results, published at Antiwar.com on March 13, 2019 and April 29, 2018, found that contrary to Gallup results the majority of Americans do not sympathize more with Israelis "in the Middle East situation."
Gallup now claims its polling showing consistently high American sympathy for Israel is the result of including the question within multi-question surveys in which prior questions about world affairs influenced the response to subsequent questions. Gallup claims, "…the priming effect of asking country favorability appears to push people toward sympathizing with Israel rather than expressing no opinion (or not taking a side). The theory is that after respondents answer some questions on international affairs, they may become more focused on the topic and more comfortable expressing opinions (including weakly held ones) in response to subsequent questions on that same topic."
Gallup claims it tested that theory and verified internally that the majority of Americans do not sympathize with Israel in an unpublished Gallup polling "experiment" conducted February 12-28.
Unfortunately for Gallup, its quiet admission raises more questions than it answers. Why is the organization admitting flawed polling only in a back-page web article with an overly technical title, "Survey Context Effects on Middle East Sympathies" sure to be ignored by polling stakeholders and the mainstream media? Why didn’t Gallup qualify its March 6 poll report, "Americans, but Not Liberal Democrats, Mostly Pro-Israel" reporting February 1-10 World Affairs results with a footnote that it may have reflected "weakly held" views, and offering its February 12-28 results? Why is Gallup still touting telephone-based survey results when online and smartphone polling is consistently providing more accurate results? Lastly, why should Americans trust Gallup, given its history of false claims to bilk US taxpayers through government contracting work?
Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America which is now available as an audiobook. IRmep is co-sponsor of the annual Israel Lobby & American Policy Conference at the National Press Club.