Focus groups, questionnaires, surveys, polls, public relations and data mining have been made into a science by marketers of products and services. Governments and politicians have not been far behind with incorporating these same tools to make their messages resonate with their target audience. This of course neglects the fact that making statistical assumptions and extrapolations based on small or compromised data sets adds the risk of skewed results. The damage could be compounded if these results were used for decisions affecting the whole country. The Aussie government has taken this approach of “governing by poll data” even to the realm of national security by incorporating polls, focus groups and active public relations (isn’t this the same as propaganda?) in their war on terrorism.
Australian government’s terrorism market research comes under fire
The attorney general’s department spent more than $201,000 on interviews, workshops and online surveys to assess the “effectiveness of key messages” and “barriers to messages” about supporting and participating in overseas conflicts.
The research was conducted in the past financial year “to inform national approaches” to communications, a department spokesman said on Tuesday.
Is this better than making a unilateral decision on terrorism or any other national matters? Is this true representative democracy? Or is this just doing what’s often done with the help of statistics?
This has been a consistent message from politicians and technocrats from several western countries. The war against ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State is being framed as a 10, 20, 30 year war. The most recent proponent of this view is former CIA director and Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, went over these topics in an interview with NPR (as part of what may be a book promotion tour?).
NPR interviews Leon Panetta about the long war against terrorism
MARTIN: You said recently in an interview with USA Today that the current fight against terrorism will end up being a, quote, “30-year war.” There are questions about how to make that legal. The current fight against ISIS has been justified by the administration under something called the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or the AUMF, which was passed by Congress after 9/11, the same authority that the president has said should be repealed because it’s too broad and shouldn’t be used to justify perpetual war. Does there need to be a new law?
PANETTA: I think it would be well for the president and the Congress to agree on the kind of authority that should be provided to the president in order to conduct this war on terrorism. I think that would be important for the country. I think it would be important to show that both Republicans and Democrats support this effort. I think it would be important in terms of making sure that there are no questions about the authority of the president of the United States to be able to fight what I think is going to be a long and sustained war against ISIS and against other elements of terrorism.