It is the season for political surveys. I get about 4-5 calls a week.
As I may have mentioned a few times here and there, when I was in my twenties, I worked for several opinion polling companies. It was an interesting period of social science boom as the communists honestly tried to understand their lack of success. I did many things in the business, but my main job was organizing various research projects. Part of that work was the design of questionnaires and the writing of their coding instructions.
The point here is that I have a soft spot for the poor souls who do opinion polls and I am honestly trying to answer any questionnaire just to help them.
I also want people to know what I think. It is important that we know what we think. I have no problem with technology either. I can handle prompts and I am more than willing to answer questions that way.
Unfortunately I cannot. I try, but the moment I am asked a question without an option I can choose, the interview is over. It is especially acute with the more and more frequent computerized ones.
“If the election was held today, who would you vote for?
Press ‘1’ for the Liberal candidate,
Press ‘2’ for the Conservative candidate
Press ‘3’ for the NDP candidate
Press ‘0’ if you are undecided”
Then silence. Waiting for my response. Then the system just hangs up or repeats the question. If I try to push any other button, I get reprimanded.
Talking to a human isn’t much better. All they can do is repeating the question. They obviously cannot take “none of the above” or “other” or “I don’t know” or “I refuse to answer” They are limited by the design and very often they can’t take no for an answer. I cannot refuse to answer a question as there is no option for them to code it. Several interviews I had ended with me declining to continue after my answer was marked as undecided in lack of a better option. Absent of proper controls, the best they can do is lying. When they don’t do that the result goes to a garbage pile that nobody cares about. I wonder if there is any polling company keeping count of refused and abandoned interviews including interpretations of those numbers in the reports.
On-line questionnaires are the worst. I have to abandon 99% of them after a few questions. Only a few ever gave me the option to explain why. Unfortunately, I cannot abandon them all. Some I have to complete as a requirement of my job, but at no point in the past thirty years was I able to complete a questionnaire giving honest, truthful answers to every question.
When I was designing questionnaires I had three options attached to every single question: “don’t know”, “refuse to answer”, “unintelligible answer/question not understood.” Good design would also suggest having an “other” option (with a possible open answer field with it) wherever it is appropriate. The point of all of these is quality control. They tell you whether you are asking the right questions the right way. If too many of the answers fall into this category, if there are too many answers in the control category, then you know that something is wrong with the question.
The result is not just poor quality, but a general dumbing down of all issues. Even the most elaborate surveys would not go beyond investigating the five jingoistic platform issues of the three main parties.
In a way this is not a bad thing. The more serious the questions become, the more important quality control would be. Without that, the results would be of little use to anybody.
….is why? What is the reason behind the abysmal quality of opinion research? I refuse to believe that the people behind it are just too stupid to do it right, leaving me with the question of what the real reason may be. Contempt? Laziness? Greed? I understand that this is a business. The organization that pays for it probably has a limited interest. They want to know the support for their party, idea or policy. They do not care about the noise. They are not interested in the opinions of those who are not going to affect the outcome of the subject of their inquiry. They have straight questions and want straight answers. But shouldn’t the pollsters have some professional pride? Shouldn’t they strive for higher standards? Are they not interested themselves? Do they really have to facilitate the contemptuous attitude of their patrons? Wouldn’t they be able to sell themselves better with the proof of higher quality results?
I’ve seen higher quality research in a communist dictatorship than I can see today in this ‘free’ world. The results were often not appreciated and supressed, but there was genuine desire to understand.
That is what I see lacking here and today.
We have a democratic system with a very high level of voter apathy which seems to be growing in direct proportion with the size of the state. Clearly, there is a democracy deficit and voter apathy is just the symptom.
While many try to explain it, nobody really knows the reason for the apathy. Some are trying to change it through activism, advocating for more democracy, making the system more responsive to a greater variety of political positions. I would argue that more democracy is not the answer; I could offer my own explanation for the apathy (too much democracyJ) but my only point here is that it would be difficult to argue that the attitude of the established parties, the media and the opinion research companies are only making the problem worse than it already is.
Dismissing the opinion of people to the extent of not even registering the fact that their opinion has been dismissed is not very conducive to political participation.
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This is the season when nobody actually cares what you think. Nobody is interested where you stand on any policy, nobody wants to know how much you understand the issues, or why you stand where you stand. The only thing everybody wants to find out is what you are going to do. Even that, only to the extent to know where you will put the X on the ballot when the day comes and even then, only if it is one of the three choices that can influence the outcome. After that day, the long winter comes when the political class can afford to treat you with even more contempt than they do during election times, when they are forced to pretend that they care. Somewhat. As long as they can be sure that you are a potential voter for one of the statist parties. If you are not, don’t be surprised if you are ignored already.
I touched upon this subject already in a previous post about NOTA.
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