The figures showed that Bashar al-Assad had far more support than had been portrayed by the opposition. No less than 55 per cent of the people of Syria, according to an opinion poll, wanted him to continue leading the country.
The results of the YouGov Siraj survey, commissioned by the Doha Debates television show, were widely publicised and used by some, including journalists, to argue that the true situation in Syria was being misrepresented by a Western media deliberately masking the popularity of the President. But a bit of digging by the BBC puts the striking figure into perspective.
It discovered that the internet survey was of 1,000 people in 18 countries in the Middle East. Moreover, when asked, "In your opinion, should Syria's President Assad resign?" some 81 per cent answered "yes". Only 98 respondents were from Syria and 55 per cent of them backed Assad. To add further context, only 18 per cent of the people in Syria have access to the internet and very few of these are in the centres of opposition.
YouGov Siraj, the Dubai arm of the UK polling firm, admits that the sample was too low and there was little internet access inside Syria. That is, it says, the reason it has referred to "respondents from Syria" rather than "Syrians". The company said: "To the laymen, there seems very little difference between the two expressions but for researchers the difference is huge. We should have stressed the difference... Or not shown the Syria data as there was always a chance it might be misinterpreted."