23. REAGAN ADMINISTRATION USED SECRET GALLUP POLLS
For at least the past eight years, Gallup's
international affiliates have been regularly conducting secret public opinion
research abroad on behalf of the U.S. government. Most of these studies, including
Central American polls, are commissioned by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA),
the government's propaganda arm. Since 1983, the USIA has used a Gallup affiliate
in Costa Rica, the Consultoria Interdisciplinaria en Desarrollo (CID), to do its
polling in Central America.
For the Gallup organization, these intimate
ties between its foreign affiliates and the U.S. government pose serious problems
and ethical questions over the misleading use made of results.
in Princeton, New Jersey, appear to have franchised their reputation to local
market research firms in the Third World with little regard to the problems of
polling in undemocratic and conflict-ridden areas. As a result, in Central America,
the Reagan Administration found it remarkably easy to exploit the Gallup name
for its own purposes.
For example, in March 1986, President Reagan used
questionable results from CID/Gallup polls to build support for the Nicaraguan
contras, claiming that "In some (Central American) countries the rate goes
as high as over 90 percent of the people who support what we're doing." The
Administration refused to substantiate the polls claims, citing the classified
nature of the material which was gathered at the request of the USIA. This use
of the poll is of dubious legality, since the USIA is forbidden from introducing
information into domestic US political debate by the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act.
have repeatedly tried to substantiate the surveys but are given the runaround.
In 1986, Barry Sussman, The Washington Post's polling expert, encountered the
Catch-22 that has frustrated journalists who have demanded that the White House
validate its poll claims. When questioned, Gallup hid behind the autonomy of its
affiliate, CID hid behind the proprietary and classified nature of the USIA data,
and the White House, ironically, hid behind the prohibition on domestic use of
The conclusions of the CID/Gallup polls subsequently have
been refuted by a series of independent public opinion surveys by Central American
and Mexican scholars. In addition, an analysis of six USIA/CID/Gallup reports
on Honduras, revealed that upper income groups were consistently overrepresented
(where it was possible to determine the base of a sample). The USIA also was criticized
for the wording of its questions.
By manipulating information gathering
through the USIA, the Reagan administration seriously tarnished the Gallup organization's
reputation. More important, it used disinformation to deceive the American public,
as well as other government leaders, in pursuit of its own foreign policy agenda.
The Nation, 5/7/88, "Mixing Polls And Propaganda," by William
Bollinger and Daniel M. Lund, pp 635-638.