Telephone Opinion Surveys

The next time your phone rings and it’s a telephone opinion survey, instead of hanging up, consider telling them, “Sorry, you don’t meet our eligibility criteria” — and THEN hang up.

My mother used to enjoy public opinion research for part-time income and stimulation in her senior years. We spent many an enjoyable evening together over dinner, analyzing how surveys were conducted, how the survey scripts sometimes channeled responses into canned categories, and how much she enjoyed talking with other people who care passionately about our country and its issues.

So I always viewed opinion surveys as a valuable civic feedback mechanism, almost a birthright, and I tried to participate enthusiastically. But no more. This ain’t our mothers’ polite question-and-response era no more.

For one thing, the survey concept has been hijacked by the fundraising crowd. When you get a mail survey, for example, flip to the back page and see the donation checkboxes for $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000 or “more.” They don’t want our opinion; they want our money.

For another, the audience is rigged. Once, participants were selected by elaborate statistical methods designed to guarantee a truly random polling base. Now, they don’t even want to talk with you unless you meet selection criteria that practically guarantee you’ll tell them what their sponsors want to hear.

So, guess what: 99.5% of (Senator Snort’s) supporters say they’re voting for Snort this year.

When the phone rings, “What is this about?” and “How long will this take?” are fair questions. Telephone surveys are scripted to be evasive and misleading on both queries. Their first job, of course, is to ascertain whether they even want to talk with you.

Last fall I took a call soliciting my opinion on the economy. It should “only” take 20 minutes. I hesitantly agreed. Their first question was whether my age group was 18-25, 26-45, 46-55 or “above.” When I answered “above,” they thanked me for my time, said they had no more questions, and hung up.

Earlier this week I took a call on a phone that does not display caller id. They were sounding out respondents on the November elections. I hesitantly agreed. Their first question was whether I felt I’d “definitely not” vote in November, was “uncertain” whether I’d vote, or “definitely” would vote in November. When I answered “definitely,” they thanked me for my time, said they had no more questions, and hung up.

Now, I’m unlikely to even answer the phone if caller id indicates it’s a survey, but if I do, it’ll be to tell them “Sorry, you don’t meet our eligibility criteria,” and hang up.

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