Last night I had the rather amusing experience of being called by a pollster. The young woman on the other end of the phone said she was calling on behalf of "Luntz Research". "Frank Luntz?" I said. "The Republican pollster?" She said she didn't know. Well, you didn't have to know anything about who the pollster was to have some idea of how they were hoping you'd answer the questions.
The survey started off with questions about the state of health care in America. If there was any doubt as to what angle the questions were coming from, it was erased when I was asked the question "Which of the following groups would you say are the most untrustworthy?" The choices were, and I swear I'm not making this up "Lawyers, litigators, plaintiff's attorneys, and politicians". Another question was "Who do you trust more, doctors or lawyers?" After I reeled off a list of family members who are lawyers (father, sister-in-law, father-in-law, uncle, various cousins), I very emphatically chose the latter.
Eventually, the questions focused on the prescription drug OxyContin. I was previously unaware that there's a controversy over this drug, as it is an opioid and thus rather addictive. The questions focused on whether a drug "that brings great relief to millions of people" should be banned because "a few hundred teenagers have died from abusing it". Some of the questions were truly outrageous, asking if the pharmaceutical executives should be arrested because of this. I believe in individual responsibility, and I understand risk/reward ratios, so I sided with those who want to keep the drug available. Many of the questions put the choice at total freedom for the drug manufacturers to innovate and make our lives better without interference versus the safety of drug-abusing teenagers. There was no middle ground. I refused to answer several questions because of that.
After ten minutes of that, the questions shifted to intellectual property. How did I feel about downloading music and movies for free off the Internet? Once again, the bias of the questions was obvious - brave and righteous content producers versus amoral copyright infringers. There was some lip service paid to the artists, but not too much. When the questions got around to enforcing copyright protection laws so that content producers could continue to enhance our lives, I went off on a rant about the CDBTPA, fair use, and bad business models. Unfortunately, I don't think the surveyor had any space on her answer sheet for that.
It's been a long time since I've been polled like that. It happened to me once in college. I forget what it was about, but it took forever and wasn't nearly as entertaining as last night. For that first poll, when they got around to asking about my demographic information, I told them I was a 27-year-old unemployed Jewish Eskimo automobile mechanic. I figured if they were going to waste my time, I might as well waste theirs. I didn't feel that last night's experience was a waste of time, but I do feel as though many of the questions did a poor job of capturing how I really felt about the issues. (I wish now that I'd taken notes, but the conversation started while I was blogging and ended while I was eating dinner, and I just never thought about it.) Life is not a multiple-choice test, y'know? And don't forget the leading nature of many of the questions. How can you get good results when you blatantly color the choices? Well, I suppose it depends on what you consider "good results" to be.Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 10, 2002 to Society and cultcha