Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Pollster

It's summer, I'm less grouchy lately, so instead of hanging up on the guy I gave it a chance.

He was calling to conduct an opinion poll. You never heard of the company and I don't remember it. They ask you questions, which you answer for free, and they sell your answers to a newspaper or TV station without giving you anything in return.

Sometimes the questions are slyly phrased or slanted. ("In your opinion, is Barack Obama a socialist, a communist, or liberal extremist? You must choose one.")

Or sometimes they are just stupid. The questions are formulated simply to get a sound bite that can be quoted on the news ("29% of people responding to this poll say Obama is a liberal extremist"), which then gets drilled into people's heads and leaves no room for a more complex understanding of current events. This is why thousands of people still believe Saddam Hussein was in on the 9/11 attacks after all these years.

In other words, just to make a buck, these companies perpetuate sloppy thinking and misinformation, and help keep Americans dumb.

But for some reason I put all that aside and gave this guy's opinion poll a try.

First question, after we got the particulars aside: born in 1971, registered independent, don't work for a TV station or newspaper, not a candidate for any office. Okay, let's go.

Question #1: Is New Mexico (a) on the wrong track, or (b) on the right track?

"I don't know what that means."

He tried to clarify the question: "Just generally."

"Generally on the right track or the wrong track?"

"Right. Just in general."

I wanted a specific question, and he was making it less specific. Moreover, he was impatient. He had a quota and I was slowing things down.

"Well, we have problems..."

He cut in, "So, we're on the wrong track then?"

Underpaid telemarketers collecting opinions as quickly as possible -- this is supposed to give us a reliable sample of public opinion. I only made it for one more question:

Question #2: In the next election for governor, would I be more likely to vote for the Democrat or the Republican?

"This isn't gonna work."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't believe in our two-party arrangement."

"So it depends on the person?"

"If it's about the party, I'm most likely to vote for the Green."

"That's not one of the options."

"In reality, it is an option. But your poll is not about reality. And my dinner is ready."

So it goes.


Kelly said...

Hey, at least you tried.

Would probably have been quite entertaining from an observer's viewpoint, listening to you frustrate the pollster.

Nathan said...

I enjoyed this post. "I'm most likely to vote for the Green." Yes, me too! Can't remember the last time I did a telephone survey for the very reasons you stated.