Pollster gauges Arab opinion

By Madeline McMahon
Staff Reporter

Adam Pechter ’93, who owns a political polling company, told students Sunday afternoon about the importance of garnering honest responses in measuring shifting public opinion in the Middle East.

Pechter spoke to about 15 students at a Master’s Tea in Silliman College Sunday afternoon about his company, Pechter Polls, which conducts polls in Middle Eastern countries by training local employees to collect data from their own communities. Pechter said he thinks this method avoids what he called the biases of Western pollsters and can help pinpoint the source of conflicts in the Middle East, such as those during the recent “Arab Spring.”

“It’s necessary to have the [most honest] response possible, where the responders feel the most comfortable,” he said. “We need valid feedback from these populations.”

Pechter Polls is most often employed by either the United States government or the governments of Middle Eastern countries to survey opinions on leadership, new initiatives and relations between countries, he said.

He added that his company, which he founded about two years ago, tries to design surveys to yield the most accurate results within the context of different cultures. He gave many examples of data collected in several Middle Eastern countries showing that similar questions often prompt different answers depending on the nationality of interviewers and the wording of questions.

“So much depends on the re-wording of questions, and knowing which questions to ask,” Pechter said.

Pechter also used data from East Jerusalem, an area that had never previously been polled, to show that many Palestinians would prefer to live in Israel if two separate states formed. He said these results often seem counterintuitive to Westerners, such as his clients who commission the polls, since they do not always understand the Middle Eastern perspective.

Though he believes that his methods are a way to better understand the source of conflicts in the Middle East, Pechter said that many members of the United States government do not always trust the inherently inexact nature of polls.

He concluded his talk by encouraging students to enter the polling industry themselves.

“This is a field of research where we need more talent,” he said. “You really need creative people working, probing and thinking about it.”

Two audience members interviewed both said they found the talk interesting, and Aaron Gertler ’15 said it even gave him an idea to start a project of his own, which he described as predicting when the tipping point for revolution occurs in tumultuous countries by examining popular sentiment. Gertler added that he thought Pechter’s methods helped to give voice to underrepresented peoples.

“I was impressed with his methods to work around oppression in these areas,” Gertler said. “This is something that we could make more use of in repressive countries.”

Silliman Master Judith Krauss attributed the company’s success to its unique polling style, adding that she does not think Middle Easterners are truly comfortable expressing themselves to American pollsters.

Pechter Polls was founded by Adam Pechter and Dr. David Pollock, and is based in Princeton, New Jersey.