Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Baghdad Now 60% Christian

ORB, a British polling group, has recently released a poll they took in Iraq in August that suggest that there have been more than a million Iraqi violent deaths because of the invasion, (and about 800,000 of those in Baghdad, based on 206 interviews in that city.)

This is newsworthy if true, and ORB has issued a press release to that effect. They’ve missed an even bigger story. Based on the same 206 interviews, in theory selected entirely at random from the Baghdad population of about six million, Baghdad is mostly Christian: 37% Orthodox, 13% Catholic, 9% Protestant and 1% Christian (page 46).

One possible explanation is that the ORB interviews were entirely random, and that the Baghdad population is actually about 60% Christian, plus or minus random sampling error.

Another, which I prefer, is that it is very difficult to do a true random sample when your next planned interview is on the other side of a checkpoint manned by heavily armed locals with a dim view of outsiders who want to ask possibly inconvenient questions.

This would explain another puzzle in the ORB results. They imply that almost one in two Baghdad households have lost a family member. Both media reports and previous polls have indicated that the Iraqis being killed are overwhelmingly adult males: they are both more likely to be targeted and more likely to be exposed to attack. Iraq Body Count estimates that 90% of the civilian deaths are adult males, and including soldiers and insurgents would make the ratio even more extreme. Iraq is also a young country, with about half the population under eighteen. One would expect that if the Baghdad households sampled are like typical Iraqi households, those deaths would significantly impact the ratio of male to female adults answering the poll. This does not occur in the Baghdad poll results.

It seems likely that something decidedly unrandom has happened to the Baghdad sample. Or some Baghdad respondents are using an expansive definition of household that includes, say, everybody in their apartment building. Or both. Or there was an error in coding the results.

Update: ORB issued revised data, dated 9/20/2007, that gives changed results for all religion categories in Baghdad while leaving other data unchanged. Christians are now reduced to 3% of the city’s population. Although no explanation has been offered on their website, it seems likely that many of the Baghdad responses on religion were originally entered incorrectly.

The gender demographics for Baghdad still seem to conflict with the reported violent death rate.


Retired Tourneyer said...

You're looking at Table 22, right? Those numbers are footnoted, but I can't find the footnotes.

This does raise some questions. Someone needs to go through these numbers and extract more meaning; wish I had time.

On the other hand, it's a little like arguing over how many bullets hit Kennedy. What's the point?

Anonymous said...

Aside from the sampling oddities, there's another problem here when I look at an earlier ORB poll from March.

That ORB poll asked if the person had a "family member/relative" killed. Note, this is not limited to one "household", just family member or relative of any sort. 26% said yes.

This new poll 6 months later tried to limit the question to one "household", yet 23% still say yes.

These numbers are almost the same. It looks like the "household" limiter in the new poll just didn't take, and most people were still answering "family member/relative".

If that's the case, and most people are still responding about all their relatives, as it seems, then ORB's estimate, which assumes answers apply only to one household of 6 or 7 people, would be hugely inflated. This could mean the ORB estimate is too high by factors of 5 or more. (Though you also noted that the raw data in ORB implies much lower numbers already, so it's not very clear if this 1.2M estimate is even the right one to draw from the data in the first place.)

Additionally, the March ORB poll also had 50% say they had neither a "family member/relative" nor a "friend/colleague" killed.

That's half the country saying they have had 0 relatives or friends killed.

If anywhere near 1 million people had been killed, would there be anyone anywhere in Iraq who didn't have at least one relative or friend killed? Maybe some in certain more peaceful areas, but 50% of the country?!?

If Iraq's population is about 25 million, each person would need only have 25 friends and relatives. Iraqis seem to have both pretty large households, and large extended families. The average number of relatives and friends each Iraqi has is probably much greater than 25. So if the 1 million+ estimate is right, the numbers who said they had neither a relative or friend killed should be somewhere around 0%, not 50.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, your math is seriously flawed. First of all, you base your entire argument on the presumption that those who took the second poll simply misunderstood the question and answered from the first poll, even though there's no reason to presume it was the same people taking the poll. Maybe the figures were right and one in four households really *did* have someone killed. You presume that figure is wrong because it crushes your argument.

Furthermore, in your final paragraph you presume that the Iraqi population is entirely homogenous, and every single citizen of Iraq has friends uniformly distributed about the country, which is patently ridiculous. Large groups of people could easily be wiped out, without killing very many "friends or relatives" of other Iraqis.

Think of it this way - maybe one person in fifty in the US has a friend or co-worker in New York City, but if they wiped out every single person living there it would be a catastrophic loss of life, with very few US citizens reporting a "friend or relative" killed there.

Be careful mixing assumptions with statistics.