opinion polls – do they manipulate our thinking?

Hello to everyone across the blogosphere!  The world keeps on spinning. . . . and we keep on writing – for better or for worse.

The question is a relevant one.  Do the oft touted public opinion polls affect our thinking on various issues?  Forgive me, readers outside of the USA, I do not know how prevalent the use of public opinion surveys is in other nations.  In the United States, these polls (surveys) are conducted quite frequently on a wide range of issues, and the results are cited on the news broadcasts (television and radio) weekly, if not daily.

Before getting to the “moral” of the story, let me briefly recount a relevant experience of mine back in 2007.  For me, the home is the refuge from the madness of the outside world.  That is why I do not like it when the privacy of my home is violated.  In the late summer, in the short space of 6 days, I received 4 telephone calls (always around dinner time) from an opinion survey organization asking my views on the very same issue.  (I have forgotten the specific issue as each time they called I tuned them out and told them that I did not want to be called on any questions.)  When I received the fourth call, with my patience wearing thin, I spoke at length with the young man.  I made clear that these opinion polls were not conducted to gauge public opinion, but rather to influence it.   Also, it was pointed out that if they wanted a random sample, they could always call one or more of my neighbors down the block or over on another nearby street.  They did not need my input.  It finally worked – they removed my number from their database and did not call me again.  Great!

Here’s the lesson.  When you hear the results of such surveys, what do you think?  How do you react in the privacy of your thoughts?

Say, for example, you are informed by the news person that 75 per cent of Americans support a certain proposed public policy action, do you feel uncomfortable if you are opposed to such proposed action?  It really does not matter what the specific issue is.  It can be a proposal for (or about) higher taxes, greater government regulations, restricting gun ownership (a hot, current issue to be sure!), so-called gay marriage, abortion, amnesty for illegal immigrants, capital punishment, reduction of so-called green house gases, etc.

In reality, these survey results are rarely independently vetted or audited to insure that the sample size was both statistically significant and truly random.  These survey conducting groups are basically on “an honor system” as to accuracy and truth.  There have been many cases of the survey workers allowing their own biases to enter into their work, thereby corrupting the results.  In other words, these large majorities in support of this or that may be not be real.  (And, there is another factor to be aware of.  Some respondents do not give honest answers.  If they think that the caller is expecting a certain type of answer, or may be condescending to a “politically incorrect” answer, a responder may opt to give the expected answer, even though it does not represent their true opinion.)

But back to what we intend as the main thrust of this essay.  How do you react when you hear that a very large majority of Americans, your fellow citizens, are in disagreement with you on a major issue?

Do you think that perhaps you are mistaken to hold the views that you do on the specific issue?  We have been conditioned in the US over the past several decades to think that the group, the majority, cannot be wrong.  Or, if wrong, only in very rare circumstances.  That is idealist nonsense, claptrap!  The majority can be, and often is, wrong or in error.

(Dear readers, this ought not be surprising to you.  Simply consider how much misinformation and disinformation we are assaulted with on a daily basis from the news media, the government, opportunistic special interest groups, etc.)

Our not so humble recommendation: Do not place undue importance on the results of these opinion surveys.  Think for yourself.  If you believe, based on your values and convictions, that something is right or wrong, then do not let a disagreeing crowd change your mind.  A nation of sheep is not going to remain free for long.  A nation of independent thinkers, not craven to peer group pressures, is one of our better hopes to remain free.  (It needs to be said that one ought to become informed.  Think independently, but also arm yourself with knowledge.  Additional knowledge may lead you to revisit your convictions.)

As always, we take no responsibility if these essays cause any cognitive dissonance in our readers.  If such dissonance serves to encourage and/or stimulate independent and responsible thinking, we believe this cannot be a bad thing.  Now, what do you think?!