Oversurveyed

The other day when Kish and I were out and about I sat at a table and a napkin dispenser invited me to take a “one-minute survey” about my experience in Columbus.  I groaned and silently resolved to not take the survey — but here’s the link to it if you feel differently.

IMG_5581Modern Americans must be the most surveyed group in the history of the world — or, at least, the most survey-solicited group ever.  These days, surveys are inescapable.  Every activity seems to generate a request for you to provide follow-up information.  Take your car to be serviced, and you then get a phone call the next morning asking you to answer “just a few questions” about the experience.  Stay at a hotel and get an emailed questionnaire along with your electronic receipt and an earnest request from the general manager that you complete the questionnaire to allow them to enhance the hotel experience.  And some websites use answering survey questions as the price of website admission — one that I simply refuse to pay.

I try to be a polite person in my interactions with the working people of the world, just as I hope they will be polite with me. The constant requests for information, however, seem to be an imposition on our politeness and civility.  I cheerfully answered “feedback” questions from my car dealer service department the first few times, then started to say no when I realized that I would be called and questioned every time — and recognized that if I took the time to answer every “survey” that was thrown in my face it would consume a measurable chunk of my day.  I also began to suspect that many of the requests weren’t really for meaningful feedback, but rather sought to get consumer information that could be sold, or used to solicit me for other services.  And I realized that the more generic on-line “surveys” couldn’t possibly yield scientific results and more likely were geared to increase the click-count on websites that could increase their ad rates as a result.

So, I’m not going to take the “one-minute survey” about Columbus, thank you very much.  Kish and I like it here.  What more does anyone need to know?

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No Surveys, No More

One of the more annoying developments in modern American shopping is this:  you can’t buy something anymore without somebody asking you to take a survey.

Usually the scenario is as follows.  You buy a product, and at the cash register the clerk hands you the ridiculously long receipt and points out the website address that is printed there.  S/he asks you to go to the website when you get home to take a “short survey” (“it won’t take more than five minutes”) so the store “can provide you with better service in the future.”  Sometimes the clerks ask you to give them a favorable mention, by name, when you complete the survey. And, of course, if you do so you might win some kind of prize — like a gift certificate to the same store.

Do any consumers actually go home and complete the requested survey?  Other than shoving knitting needles up my nostrils, it’s hard for me to come up with things that I would less like to do than take a survey where I provide a store with personal information in exchange for nothing — and do so at the expense of my valuable downtime.

When I’m at home, every moment is precious, to be hoarded like a miser’s stash of gold and spent carefully.  I resent it when stores act like my time is so worthless that I would eagerly go home to give a store marketing data that it can sell and rave about the kid who rang up my transaction.

Cell Phones, Land Lines, And Survey Results

Public opinion surveys have been a staple of American politics for years.  They have a proven track record — at least, they do when the pollsters figure out how to identify an appropriate sample that mirrors the people who actually will cast ballots in the election and then reach those people to learn their views.  If you can’t accurately do both, you risk results that are as misguided as the infamous 1936 Literary Digest poll that embarrassingly predicted that Alf Landon would beat FDR in a landslide when in fact the exact opposite occurred.

In the modern cell phone and smart phone world, can pollsters know with any assurance that they have reached an appropriate sample of voters?  For years, pollsters relied on land line telephones to conduct their surveys.  Recently, however, many Americans have dropped their land line phones as a nuisance and unnecessary expense.  In 2007, nearly 13 percent of American households had no land line phone.  By 2008, that number had jumped to 20 percent and it has only increased since then as millions more — including Kish and me — have gone totally wireless.

The question for pollsters is whether the demographic and political characteristics of wireless households are different from those of households that still cling (bitterly?) to their land lines.  Some pollsters think that may be the case, reasoning that cell phone-only people probably are younger, unmarried, don’t own a home, and so forth.  That may have been true initially, but my guess is that as wireless-only status has become more common, and even old farts like Kish and me have joined that segment of the population, the differences have been minimized.  The important point, in any case, is that no one really knows.

So, in these days leading up to Election Day, let’s not pay too much attention to the polls and their competing results.  The only poll that really matters is the one that will occur on November 2, and all registered voters — be they wireless Gen Xers or land line fogies — will have an equal opportunity to be counted.