Bomb Aladin? Funny but unethical.

There is a news story going around about how Republican Party supporters are willing to bomb ‘Agrabah’, the fictional state in Disney’s Aladin.

The question was asked as part of a wider poll looking at the presidential nominations. Full results are here

The text of the question was this

Would you support or oppose bombing Agrabah?
  • Support bombing Agrabah
  • Oppose bombing Agrabah
  • Not sure
This was the only question about bombing anywhere and was sandwiched between a question about Japanese internment and ideological identification.
So aside from grabbing headlines what information has this question give us? Very little. At best it is a rough proxy for the willingness of different groups to bomb a city (or maybe a country) but even then it provides less information than if they had used a non-fictional place.
Placed inĀ  context of a poll in which the person being polled would reasonably assume that the questions are pertinent and honest, using a fictional place is bound to generate spurious results. The question as asked doesn’t have a serious answer. Bomb Agrabah? Why not? After all nobody lives there. There isn’t a sensible correct answer for that question, although ‘not sure’ is probably the wisest response.
Does this tell us something about the relative ignorance of different kinds of supporters? No, or at least very little. If you wanted to find out how good different groups are at identifying fictional versus non-fictional Middle Eastern locations then ASK AN HONEST QUESTION e.g.
Can you tell me which of these places are real or fictional places in the Middle east?
  • Agrabah (real/fictional)
  • Aleppo (real/fictional)
  • Baghdad (real/fictional)
  • Damascus (real/fictional)
  • Homs (real/fictional)
  • Qumar (real/fictional)
This question wouldn’t get as good a headline but it would provide better comparative information about the capacity of different groups to recognize real Middle-East locations.
So the pollsters and the newspapers get a cheap laugh out of Donald Trump fans, who in turn have their distrust of the media confirmed. In the process the pollster breaks the basic compact between those who poll and those who are being polled – i.e. the process is honest and its purpose is not to denigrate those taking part.
This was a stupid an unethical question and the news outlets that went on to promote are equally unethical in inflating its significance. Ask a stupid question and you get stupid answers. Please don’t do this pollsters. It undermines trust and that undermines the data you get. Cheap headlines aren’t worth it.