A recent survey conducted by Al Jazeera Television and Gallup Pakistan claims that over 59% of Pakistanis look at the United States as their greatest nemesis with the traditional rival India and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as a distant second and third respectively.
In a society like Pakistan’s where the literacy rate and emotions run in opposite directions, one must be most vigilant in conducting and interpreting public polls and surveys. “The real challenge is not choosing the right statistical methodology; rather, it is the practical execution of that methodology that proves to be the real test for the companies,” says former CEO of AC Nielsen Pakistan, Khalid Siddiqui.
But before we can talk about the methodology or data gathering exercise of this particular survey, we should first take a look at the company that conducted it.
Not many Pakistanis know that Gallup Pakistan has nothing to do with the US-based Gallup, Inc. that frequently makes international headlines with its presidential approval ratings and US economic data. Apparently, even an organization of the size and repute of Al Jazeera is unaware of this fact. Instead, Gallup Pakistan is associated with the UK-based Gallup International Association, which works primarily through its website and is notorious in the market research industry for handing out affiliations all over the world for as low as a few hundred dollars.
Gallup Pakistan was founded by MIT doctorate Ijaz Shafi Gilani in 1979. Its headquarters were established in Islamabad, and its function as a market research and public opinion polling company; the firm acquired formal affiliation with UK-based Gallup International Association in 1984 and since then has conducted thousands of market research and public opinion surveys in Pakistan.
I have two questions. First, why would a market research company base itself in Islamabad rather than a city known as a business center like Karachi, or even Lahore?
Secondly, why is it that Gallup Pakistan, even after thirty years, has failed to become the company of choice for the private sector corporate clientele of the country? AC Nielson and Oasis, two other market research firms that entered the Pakistani market much later, have successful in capturing most of that business.
“Over the years, most of the work done by Gallup Pakistan has been for government departments and non-governmental organizations based both here and abroad. Incidentally, both of [these organizations] do not set very high standards of accountability,” said one industry source. This coupled with Gallup Pakistan’s inability to gain the private sector’s trust raises a few questions about the organization’s credibility.
If you look at the company website, you’ll see the organization refrains from using the Gallup Pakistan name for its polls. Instead, the polls are attributed to Gilani, the company founder. You will also find quite a few Al-Jazeera-commissioned public opinion surveys. These very serious and interesting studies range from Pakistan’s “Lassi” (a summer yoghurt drink) drinking habits to the percentage of people using toothpaste to clean their teeth. Very serious and interesting.
Many in the industry believe that the connections, rather than the credibility, of the man behind Gallup Pakistan, Dr Ijaz Shafi, have made his company the number one choice for most of the government’s surveys. His strong political affiliation with hardliner Jamaat-e-Islami also earned him a place as the communication advisor to the prime minister in Nawaz Sharif’s first Islami Jamhoori Ittehad government from 1990-1993.
Opinion polls and surveys are a very sensitive business; a lot relies on the reputation a research company enjoys in the market. I spoke to quite a few public and private officials ranging from bureaucrats to university professors during the course of writing this report. Ironically, none of them knew that Gallup Pakistan and Gallup, Inc. are two totally different entities. Nor were they aware of the legal battles fought between the two during the last few years on the issue of trademark infringement in both Pakistan and the United States.
It was in 2006 that Gallup Pakistan was denied registration of the “Gallup” trademark in Pakistan after the trademark registrar received objections from Gallup, Inc. Less than a year ago a US court ruled in favor of the Gallup, Inc. after the company complained of trademark infringement when Gallup Pakistan’s Dr. Gilani took part in a US radio show and used the name Gallup Pakistan to describe the company.
“There has always been a big question mark over the formulation of the questions being asked in these surveys, and historically these survey companies have also been guilty of misreporting their sampling errors and margins of error,” says Dr. Farrukh Saleem of the Centre of Research and Security Studies, an Islamabad think tank. “Just a few months back a local TV channel ran a public survey asking people [if] they want Islam in Pakistan. Now for me that is an extremely inappropriate question, of course 98% of the respondents will say yes. But if we were to ask if they want the Deobandi, Barelvi or some other version of Islam, that would have got us much more interesting results.”
Lastly, this survey has been released at a time when Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist, has been recently killed in a US drone attack, suicide attacks are on a decline and there is significant improvement in the bilateral ties of the two countries. Is it another attempt to widen the trust deficit between the two countries or it is an honest representation of the 170 million Pakistanis? Ironically, the best way to find out may be yet another survey!