Tyranny of the Perceived Majority: Polling in the U.S. News Media Before the Invasion of Iraq

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Quantitative and qualitative methods are used to analyze media content about polled support for the invasion of Iraq before it took place. A tendency for journalists to emphasize data suggesting majority support rather than opposition is identified, and an associated perception of a pro-war majority is seen in letters to the editor. Analysis contrasts conceptual and methodological imprecision attending discussions of public opinion with numerical precision in survey data, arguing that a scientific reading of poll results should not be equated with public opinion. A perceived pro-war majority aligned with a pro-war political climate is explained in terms of a distinction between scientific, instrumental, and symbolic readings of polls, the mediated nature of public opinion, and symbolic power.

Keywords: Iraq War; Public opinion; Qualitative methods; Quantitative methods; Symbolic power

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2011.599849

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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