On June 26, the Washington-based Pew Research Center released the results of its annual global survey, which was conducted among 40,448 participants in 37 countries outside the U.S.
Among other things, Pew asked those surveyed how they feel about the leaders of four nations: U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On June 27, Russia’s TASS state news agency posted a report in Russian portraying the results of Pew’s survey as highly favorable to Vladimir Putin.
“According to the research, 27% of its participants regard the Russian leader with confidence, believing that he ‘is doing the right things on the world stage’," the TASS report says.
In fact, the phrase “is doing the right things on the world stage” does not appear in the text of Pew's report on the survey's results. Rather, it includes a table showing the country-by-country findings for all four leaders, which is headlined “Confidence in …to do the right thing regarding world affairs.”
In contrast to TASS's positive spin on what the survey found about attitudes toward Putin, Pew’s researchers wrote:
“Putin inspires little confidence as an international leader. Roughly, six-in-ten across the 37 countries surveyed say they have little or no confidence in him. Outside of Russia, only in Vietnam (79%) does a majority say they trust Putin’s handling of world affairs. About half or more in the Philippines (54%) and Tanzania (51%) say the same.”
The Pew report continued: “In Europe, with the exception of Greece, relatively few have confidence in Putin when it comes to international affairs. Poles (4%) express the least confidence. In Canada, roughly two-in-ten (19%) have confidence in the Russian leader.”
Polygraph.info asked Mark Kramer, a professor of Russian studies at Harvard University, on whether he thought the TASS report was the result of an honest translation mistake or a deliberate misrepresentation of facts.
“It is one of the most common and unimaginative ways to lie with statistics,” Kramer responded in an email.
“It looks like the TASS people are devotees of Darrell Huff's classic textbook ‘How to Lie with Statistics’,” Kramer said, referring to the book written in 1954 by a free-lance reporter who had witnessed, in Kramer’s words, how public officials “often manipulate statistics to make something bad look good.”
The book, which became one of the best-selling statistics books in history, describes how public officials found they could often fool people by selectively repackaging statistics and presenting the manipulated results to a mass audience.
“That's exactly what has happened here,” said Kramer. “Rather than acknowledging the main thrust of the Pew Research Center's findings about Putin -- which is that Putin is widely mistrusted and widely viewed very negatively around the world -- the TASS journalists focus on the minority who view Putin positively.”