A CBS News poll over the weekend found that 40 percent of those surveyed believe the missing documents that turned up in the Timothy McVeigh case and resulted in a stay of his execution were withheld by the FBI on purpose, while 41 percent believe it was a mistake.
Considering that the people surveyed had no idea what was in the papers, no idea how the FBI normally handles such evidence and no idea about the character, beliefs and tendencies of the people involved, asking them to assess the motives behind the incident seems a little bizarre, but CBS News surveys director Kathleen Frankovic says the question lends insight into the reasons behind Americans' darkening perception of the FBI. The poll found that only 24 percent have a favorable opinion of the FBI, down from 43 percent in April 2000. Twenty-five percent, up from 10 percent last April, have an unfavorable opinion of the bureau.
Salon's Division of Polling, Surveys and Silly Questions has used similar reasoning in several recent polls, in which Americans have been asked to answer questions that they have almost no way of knowing the answers to. These questions have yielded results that tell us a lot about how Americans are feeling about a variety of issues. Really. We swear.
Some recent results:
On his way to work last Tuesday, Billy Alfonso, the assistant manager of a Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tenn., was delayed when his car broke down. What was the problem?
-- Clutch cable: 44 percent
-- Broken timing belt: 21 percent
-- Electrical system failure: 14 percent
-- Ran out of gas: 13 percent
-- Other: 8 percent
What is grand unified field theory?
-- They use our tax money to build a stadium for both football and baseball: 46 percent
-- How those wraparound sunglasses work: 23 percent
-- A theory having to do with the unification of gravity and other elementary forces: 2 percent
-- Don't know/other: 29 percent
Who was at fault in the Alfonso car breakdown?
-- Alfonso negligent with upkeep: 53 percent
-- Car's a lemon; dealer ripped Alfonso off: 27 percent
-- Alfonso's mechanic, Elroy Mercer, is an incompetent drunk: 11 percent
-- FBI conspiracy against Alfonso: 9 percent
Quick, what's the square root of 972,147?
-- About 30: 55 percent
-- I think it's Latin: 35 percent
-- 986: 9.9984868 percent
-- It's close enough to say 985.975151816717945: 0.0015132 percent
What am I thinking right ... NOW?
-- "This person I'm talking to is really cute": 41 percent
-- "This person I'm talking to is really ugly": 42 percent
-- Something weird to throw me off: 16 percent
-- Don't know, don't want to know: 1 percent
Billy Alfonso was reprimanded for being late to work the day his car broke down. That incident aside, is Alfonso doing a good job at the Piggly Wiggly?
-- Yes: 41 percent
-- No: 38 percent
-- No opinion on Alfonso, but wish Clarice Jamerson, now dancing at the Kit Kat Gentlemen's Club in West Memphis, Ark., would come back to her bagging job at the Piggly Wiggly, because she's breaking her poor mother's heart: 21 percent