Dr. Lee B. Becker during his presentation.

University of Cairo Media Scholar Begins Research Visit to Cox Center

Despite the popular view that President George W. Bush and others in his administration rallied public opinion to support war with Iraq, there is little evidence that such movement of public opinion took place, Dr. Lee B. Becker from the University of Georgia told an audience of public opinion experts in Cairo, Egypt, in early February.

Dr. Becker said that his extensive review of polling data led him to conclude public opinion prior to the launching of the Bush administration campaign for war was very negative toward Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein.

“The Bush administration campaign and media coverage of it may well have reinforced initial negative views about Saddam Hussein and Iraq,” Dr. Becker said, “but neither of these is likely to have altered public opinion in a dramatic way.”

Dr. Becker with Dr. Rasha A. Abdulla of the American University Cairo.

The presentation by Dr. Becker was at the Cairo International Conference on Public Opinion, held February 6-8 at the Marriott Hotel in Cairo. Approximately 300 public opinion experts, educators and government officials attended the conference.

Dr. Becker gave one of three keynote addresses at the conference. Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Dr. Becker has done extensive research on media and public opinion.

“In many ways, Iraq was an easy target for the Bush administration when it took office,” Dr. Becker said. By the time the Bush administration launched its verbal campaign against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, large segments of the public were receptive to them, he said.

Dr. Becker said his findings, in the view of some people, “may remove some of the blame placed on the media for their rather passive coverage of the Bush assertions.”

Yet Dr. Becker said the media deserve some of the blame for “the hostile and overly simplistic view the public held of both Iraq and Saddam Hussein before the current war began.” “Vilification of a country and even a despotic leader probably should not be a goal of media coverage,” he added.

Dr. Haitham Hadi of the Asharq Center for Polls & Marketing Research in Iraq, left, with Dr. Becker.

Other keynote addresses were given by Dr. Wolfgang Donsbach of the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, and Dr. Thomas Peterson, a researcher at the Allensbach Institute for Demoskopie in Germany.

Dr. Donsbach talked about the relationship between public opinion polling organizations and their constituencies, including the media. Dr. Peterson focused on mistakes made by those who use polling data when they focus on single question rather than the patterns of responses to various questions asked of the pubic.

The conference was organized by the Information and Decision Support Center of the Egyptian government. Sponsors included the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany.

Public opinion experts from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, Canada, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Scotland were among those in attendance.

At one roundtable discussion on media and public opinion polls, journalists lamented the lack of independent polling centers in Egypt, where political polling only can be practiced by organizations holding a government license. At present, only the government itself is doing public opinion polling.

“Public opinion is closely related to political reform in Egypt,” Prof. Magued Osman, chairman of the Information and Decision Support Center, said in the closing session.

Ph. Dr. Magi El-Halawani, Dean of the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, center,
with Dr. Lee B. Becker, right, at Cairo University. Dr. Mohamed Abdel Wahab El-Faqih of Yemen is on the left.

Members of the Faculty of Mass Communication at the University of Cairo were among those attending the public opinion conference.
Dr. Becker visited the facilities of the Faculty of Mass Communication during the conference and discussed possible future collaboration between the University of Cairo and the University of Georgia in the future.

Dr. Ayman Nada from the Faculty of Mass Communication at the University of Cairo began his four-month visit to the University of Georgia the week before Cairo public opinion conference. Dr. Ayman is being hosted by the Cox Center.

The title of Dr. Becker’s keynote address at the Cairo conference was: A Secondary Analysis of U.S. Public Opinion Polls about the War in Iraq. Dr. Becker and colleagues Dr. Allan McCutcheon and Dr. Tudor Vlad gave a paper on misperceptions on the war in Iraq at a conference in Chicago in November.