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Survey questions are as important as the answers

Is a 632 word story to sufficient to support a front page splash headline “British believe Bush is more dangerous than Kim Jong-il“? There is no longer story inside the Guardian today giving more details of the questions asked and the responses given in an opinion survey. Neither is there anything extra on the website that does not face the same space constraints.

The report is based on surveys sponsored by the Guardian in the UK (carried out by the reputable ICM poll company), Haaretz in Israel, La Presse and Toronto Star in Canada and Reforma in Mexico.

With surveys it is important to know the details. In this case a picture panel above the copy asks “Which world leader poses a danger to world peace?” The answers are Osma bin Laden 87%, George W Bust 75%, Kim Jong-Il 69% and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad 62%. In the copy, respondents rated al-Qaida as a great or moderate threat to peace.

There is a difference between asking about an individual and an organisation. And could we not have been given the breakdown of numbers saying “great” or “moderate”?

The Guardian’s second lead, “Two thirds of teenagers too fat to be soldiers”, turns to page 2 and has 886 words — 40% longer than the lead.

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