Looking through a glass darkly: seeking a view inside North Korea

Opinion surveys, however limited they may be in scope, offer valuable insights

Marie DuMond and Sue Mi Terry, 

This article is a response to Andrei Lankov’s “The perils and pitfalls of North Korean opinion polls”

Micro-surveys commissioned by Beyond Parallel are intended to serve as a view inside North Korea, an initial step toward gaining a greater understanding of what some citizens currently living inside the country are thinking on issues including the regime’s nuclear weapons program, markets, access to outside information, and unification.

These micro-surveys are not meant to address other issues such as opinions on denuclearization negotiations or efforts to overthrow the government. The micro-surveys are also not intended to be the definitive view inside North Korea and should be understood, as Beyond Parallel always seeks to do, in the context of the greater body of work that is taking place across the public sector, private organizations, NGOs, and academia.

A CLOSED SYSTEM

The study of North Korea has long been complicated by the great difficulties of getting information out of the country. Researchers seeking to gain insight into what North Koreans are thinking inside the country have had to rely on testimony from defectors who have chosen to leave the country. Other sources for this type of information include regime-sanctioned media reports, anecdotes from the few outsiders who are able to travel while under the careful watch of regime-sanctioned minders, and regime-approved overseas workers.

All of these sources of information come with assorted biases: defectors are not representative of the North Korean population, media sources are censored by the government, overseas North Korean workers vetted, and outside travelers are more often than not only steered toward what the regime wants them to see.

When it comes to North Korea, therefore, we have to be careful to draw information from a wide variety of sources while keeping in mind that all of them are tainted by some sort of bias.

The study of North Korea has long been complicated by the great difficulties of getting information out of the country

Whether you are talking to North Koreans inside the country or North Koreans in third countries, one must be wary of the biases of those you interview. For these reasons, we designed the micro-survey to determine whether views inside the country are different from those of defectors. In this sense, our work is trying to build on and complement the existing data on what North Koreans think.

Further, however small the survey, it is reliant on more data from inside the country – scores of citizens between the ages of 24 and 80, with occupations from doctors to sauna workers, evenly sampled by gender, and from 8 provinces and regions – than anecdotal evidence from North Korean acquaintances in outside countries.

North Korea is not just a closed, secretive country inhibiting efforts to get information out. People who express opinions contrary to the regime can face extremely harsh consequences and do so only at great personal risk. For these reasons, the micro-surveys commissioned by Beyond Parallel were designed to protect all of the people involved.

Safety was one of the primary considerations when considering the methodological design of the Beyond Parallel projects. To make sure that both the survey administrators and the respondents would not be at risk, the surveys were done as natural, face-to-face conversations. Interviewers avoided asking leading questions.

No one carried around a check-list of questions. No one cold-called strangers from a phone book with requests to participate in a study. If you were to have watched the conversations taking place, they would not have appeared to be anything different from any other conversation taking place. This method certainly does not look anything like what people living in free and open societies would expect to experience in a scientific opinion survey.

An understanding of what North Koreans are thinking and experiencing is further plagued by non-data based, subjective assessments | Photo: NK News

PROTECTING RESPONDENTS

But these types of precautions are not needed in countries where freedom of speech is protected. While this methodology can introduce anomalies in the collection of responses, it does have an added benefit of avoiding reporting bias in addition to protecting the safety of all participants.

Given the closed nature of the North Korean regime, a second major consideration in the methodological design of these micro-surveys was the accessibility of respondents. Therefore, the micro-surveys employed sampling of convenience. Samples of convenience are an accepted methodology when accessibility is limited. This type of methodology is regularly employed in conflict zones, post-disaster areas, extremely remote populations, or any areas where random sampling is impossible.

With the small size of the surveys and a sample of convenience, the results cannot be applied to the rest of the North Korean population as a larger, random sample survey might be. For example, 43 of 50 respondents expressed ambivalent to highly negative views of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, while just 7 of the 50 gave positive responses.

This does not mean that most North Koreans living in the country are for or against the regime, and we do not claim otherwise. This finding does not mean that most defectors or overseas North Korean workers are for or against the regime. The finding simply means that of the 50 people the micro-survey talked to, 7 were positive toward the program and 43 were ambivalent or highly negative toward it. Based on these micro-surveys alone you also cannot infer how most North Koreans might feel about matters such as future talks on denuclearization.

It is hardly fair to critique Beyond Parallel’s work for something it does not claim to do.

(Note: Beyond Parallel reached out to Mr. Lankov prior to the publication of his article with an offer to answer any questions he might have about the micro-surveys. He did not respond to the offer.)

The results cannot be applied to the rest of the North Korean population as a larger, random sample survey might be

An understanding of what North Koreans are thinking and experiencing is further plagued by non-data based, subjective assessments based on ideology, politics, etc. Statements such as “North Koreans, like many other people in the world, would like their tribe to be strong” are simply subjective statements with no data.

The projects undertaken by Beyond Parallel are trying to rectify this, albeit imperfectly, but no less imperfectly than other scholarship on Korea.

The results of the micro-surveys commissioned by Beyond Parallel do provide us with a view, however limited, into the lives and thinking of the ordinary North Koreans this project talked to. These individuals’ opinions are valid and shouldn’t be discounted. While their views do not represent the entire country, they do help us see a little more of the picture than we have had in the past.

A complete, unbiased understanding of what the North Korean people think will unfortunately not be possible until North Korea becomes a free society. We look forward to a day when large scale, randomly sampled opinion surveys can be conducted in North Korea without any concerns for safety and no limits on accessibility.

Until then, we hope that the expert and lay communities find Beyond Parallel’s micro-surveys useful.

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured Image: CPC_7528 by nknews_hq on 2016-10-04 16:21:13

Fonte: https://www.nknews.org/2018/03/looking-through-a-glass-darkly-seeking-a-view-inside-north-korea/

Os textos, informações e opiniões publicados neste espaço são de total responsabilidade do(a) autor(a). Logo, não correspondem, necessariamente, ao ponto de vista do Central da Pauta.

​Os textos, informações e opiniões publicados neste espaço são de total responsabilidade do(a) autor(a). Logo, não correspondem, necessariamente, ao ponto de vista do Central da Pauta.