September 26, 2018

Letters to the editor: The Iran poll, the Iran deal and Israel in the Special Olympics

Poll Challenge

We reviewed the L.A. Jewish Journal poll and determined that its conclusion that most American Jews support the Iran nuclear deal is not valid. The question asked was, “As you may know, an agreement was reached in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons. Do you support or oppose this agreement, or don’t know enough to say?”

The preamble clearly suggests an answer and characterizes the deal in a positive way. Had the preamble characterized it differently, namely “an agreement was reached in which the U.S. and other countries would lift major sanctions providing Iran, the world’s largest supporter of terrorism, hundreds of billions of dollars that may well be used to fund and arm with missiles Hamas and Hezbollah, in exchange for Iran being given a pathway to nuclear weapons in 10-15 years,” the result may well have been the opposite. An appropriate formulation of the question would have had no preamble whatsoever. A preamble of any sort is the classic definition of a “push poll” to get the outcome the pollster wants.

Another more subtle but critical issue is the biased sampling scheme. According to its own publication, the poll calls for sampling at random from a database of households with at least one adult respondent who is Jewish. This means that a Jew in the database married to a non-Jew has double the chance of being polled as a Jew married to a Jew. Because Jews married to Jews have more concern about Israel than intermarried Jews, studies show, the results of the poll are heavily weighted toward the views of Jews who are intermarried and are therefore unrepresentative of the Jewish population as a whole.

This poll is politically biased and therefore the results are rendered inaccurate. Presenting results of such a poll as representative of American Jewry  has a scent of deception.

Abba M. Krieger, Robert Steinberg professor of statistics, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Moshe Pollak, Marcy Bogen professor of statistics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Pollsters respond: To be sure, all survey questions are biased. Variations in wording produce different results, even subtle changes such as adding “or not” at the end of a question (as in, “Last Passover, did you attend a seder, or not?”).

Hence there’s no single right way to ask any question on any topic. That said, we should aim for some version of neutrality. The key question in the poll was taken from a Quinnipiac University survey of April 27.

The Quinnipiac University polls enjoy a reputation for methodological competence and neutrality.  

While question wording can influence frequencies (how many for, how many against), the Jewish/non-Jewish difference figures to be relatively more impervious to changes in question wording. In other words, no matter how you phrase the question (within reason), Jews figure to come out more pro-deal than Americans.

The reason: More Jews are liberal (as everyone agrees), and liberals support the deal much more than conservatives (as everyone agrees). Don’t you agree?

As for your concern that we over-sampled intermarried Jews: The screening of Jews was done by first randomly selecting a respondent and then asking if they considered themselves Jewish. Therefore, households with two Jewish adults, would result in a 100 percent chance of interviewing a Jew, whereas a household with two adults who are intermarried would result in a 50 percent chance of interviewing a Jew. In this manner, the potential bias of over-representing Jews who are intermarried is negated.

Steven M. Cohen, research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

David Dutwin, executive vice president and chief methodologist at SSRS.

Time Will Tell

Michael Berenbaum’s opinion piece is one of the smartest pieces I’ve read so far on the Iran deal (“Geneva is not Munich, and President Obama is not Neville Chamberlain,” July 24). He wisely avoids superlatives and approaches the subject as a historian rather than as someone with a political ax to grind. Berenbaum understands that the stakes are incredibly high and that whatever optimism he has is tempered by the fact that nobody really knows whether Barack Obama’s gamble will be fruitful or not. History will be the ultimate judge of the agreement, as it is with all things.

Guy Handelman, Oakland

Big Triumph in Little Israel

Thank you for the cover story about the Israeli track and field athletes attending the 2015 Special Olympics (“Getting Into the Spirit of the Games,” July 24). While watching the opening ceremonies, we were impressed by the large number of athletes on the Israeli team. On the TV broadcast, it was mentioned that the number of participants on each country’s team is fairly indicative of the extent of the country’s efforts and involvement in providing for its special needs citizens. We were proud that tiny Israel’s contingent numbered 59 — far exceeding the number of a great many larger countries participating.

Stu and Micki Bernstein, Santa Monica