Resource Library

Insights | Series II | No. 7 | November 2014


Cautious Radicals: Public Opinion and Hong Kong’s Democracy Protests

By Craig Charney

Since pro-democracy proHong_Kong_Umbrella_Revolution_Imagetests began in Hong Kong in late September, the ghosts of Tiananmen Square have hovered over Civic Square and the other protest encampments.  Thus, despite their clash over the territory’s political future, the students and activists opposed to Beijing’s policies and their foes in the administration, business, and elsewhere have been careful to avoid violent face-offs that could lead to a repeat of the catastrophic conflict of 1989.

Both sides in Hong Kong are constrained by the power of public opinion there.  In that divided society, the pro- and anti-government factions are struggling to win over an ambivalent middle.  Moreover, beyond their political divisions, residents broadly share a desire to preserve Hong Kong’s unique rule of law and privileged status within China.

Anger at Beijing’s proposed electoral reform, considered insufficient, along with discontent at the city’s unpopular leader, triggered the protests.  But this has been offset by protest fatigue and political disillusionment.  Given this situation, and Hong Kong’s distinctive civic culture, there is a possibility for compromise.  But the situation is volatile, and a misstep – particularly the large-scale use of force against protesters – could produce a major confrontation.

Hong Kong’s crisis illuminates the political challenges – and stakes – facing the city-state and China as a whole.  The situation in the special region shows the steadily growing tensions that develop as the products of modernization – a lively civil society, a free press, and an educated citizenry – chafe under one-party rule. This problem will only deepen in years ahead as a dissenting younger generation comes of age.  It tests whether China will accept the consequences of its commitment to “one country, two systems” — or crush Hong Kongers’ democratic aspirations at great cost to the city and the country. 

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Researcher’s Diary: Polling in a Conflict Zone – Lessons from Iraq

By John Moreira

 As I listened over a scratchy Skype coimage_2nnection to survey supervisors in Baghdad while training them for a political poll, I  wondered if the line would go dead again for the umpeteenth time that day.

But dropped calls were hardly my biggest worry setting up a poll in Iraq, which presents a complex set of challenges for survey  researchers. These include ensuring the safety of consultants, interviewers, and respondents, while creating an environment that  allows respondents to provide their true opinions and attitudes.  Iraq is the nec plus ultra, the acid test for polling in what are  euphemistically called “non-permissive environments” or “denied areas.”

 If Iraq poses tough problems, it also is a place where we have developed answers on how to conduct valid polls  in a conflict zone.  Having done survey research there since 2010 for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), I’ve seen that  there are methods that can produce surprisingly accurate results. These allow groups like NDI to work with political parties and  leaders to increase their awareness of needs of the people.  Just as important, they make Iraq a model of how survey research  techniques can be adapted to work even in a country at war.

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Ask the Survey Doctor: Five Deadly Sins of Survey Research Firms in Developing Countries  

Q. We have to prove ouAfricanDoctor_250pxr programs perform on a tight evaluation budget.  We also have USAID Forward breathing down our necks to use local contractors.  Aren’t the local survey research firms in developing countries able to do the job – and cheaply?  Why bother with costly international consultants?

A. We’ll begin to answer with a story.  A few years ago, a development consultancy working on a project proposal in Afghanistan told us, “We don’t need an international pollster to evaluate this one.  We found a local outfit with good references and that will help us comply with USAID Forward.”

After some nudging, they told us the local firm’s name – and got a shock. “Did you know they just lost a NATO contract there because of unreliable data?” we told the startled proposal leader.  Better safe than sorry, he decided – and brought us in to do quality control. 

This episode illustrates a big risk facing anyone aiming to do survey research in the developing world: bad quality control.  But that is only one of the deadly sins local research partners in developing countries often commit, putting evaluations, assessments, and market studies at grave risk.  Others involve poor methodology, weak capacity, inexperience with development issues, an academic approach, and shallow analysis.  Whether the result of corner-cutting or simple ignorance, these issues can turn an evaluation survey into an expensive flop. 

For the full answer, click here.

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