Sunday, September 17, 2006

On being a polling subject


George Gallup was the father of modern political research.

I got polled tonight. This isn't unusual -- we get polling calls to this household quite often. Certainly at least once an election cycle, usually more than once.

Since most people complain they have never been polled, I have to wonder why. I think there are several factors to lead to my getting a lot of these calls.

Foremost, I'm willing to talk to pollsters and market researchers. I'm curious about them. Hell, I've even once filled out one of those Arbitron rating radio diaries, though none of the alternative and NPR stations I listen to are even covered in the ratings. I suspect the willingness to answer questions at all makes me a desirable call and gets me in calling pools, given that more and more people won't respond to surveys.

Second, I am a reliable voter. I always cast a ballot. So, to gauge election opinon, I'm in the group you do need to measure -- just as I am in the last group that any candidate should bother to target with persuasion calls.

(Neither of the factors above should lead to inclusion in a polling pool according to most descriptions of randomized selection methodology, but I am convinced they do.)

Thirdly, I answer my landline in the evening. That's more and more a rarity, like landlines themselves.

Finally, I suspect we have an inordinate number of polls here in San Francisco. In particular, local political consultants have proved that they can both win and defeat local ballot measures if they have the right attitudinal data about down-ballot voters. Campaigns know they need that information and they pay to get it.

As in many polling calls I get, the interviewer tonight was only marginally up to the job. This one could at least read the script and sounded as if she had heard of the subject matter, a school bond measure. She didn't have to ask me my favorable or unfavorable opinion of local politicians. These questions usually trip up the interviewers since they've seldom been taught how to pronounce any of the names. Pollsters, listen up: Interviewers who can't even pretend they know what they are talking about drive down response rates. Who wants to talk to someone who seems not to understand what you are saying?

I sometimes wonder whether I can rightly participate in these polls since I work in politics. I answer the qualifying questions honestly: No, I am not an officeholder, don't currently work for one, nor do I work in media. I do teach community groups how to survive and thrive in the electoral arena, but that is too rare a vocation to be caught by most questions.

As far as I could make out, tonight's poll aimed to find effective counter arguments to a proposed $450 million school bond to be issued to pay for building improvements, replacement of portable classrooms, upgrading bathrooms, and other worthy infrastructure improvements. Sounds good, but there are powerful arguments against it, including that we, the voters, authorized borrowing for similar projects only five years ago and that the school system has a less then stellar record of fiscal controls. If opponents throw enough money at a smart campaign, I suspect they may keep the measure from getting the 55 percent it would require to pass.

Polling me didn't help them much. I'm exactly the demographic they presumably hope to sway: an older white homeowner with no kids in school. But I listened to the arguments and will still vote for it. Sure, the schools are inefficient, but they are made worse by being continually strapped for basic amenities. It will be interesting to see what sort of persuasion mail I get over the next few weeks. I wonder which of the opposing arguments polled best?

1 comment:

sfmike said...

I'm also one of the last dinosaurs with a landline rather than a cell and my response to all polling, whether political or otherwise, is simple: "Are you offering a gift for my time?" If not, I ask them to get off my f---ing landline.

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