Polls apart: the truth and surveys


IT SEEMS to be important for people to know what I think. I recently got a call from someone wanting to know if I would fill out a questionnaire about newspapers.

It sounded to me like one of those surveys where they gather data and then make all the wrong changes. I like newspapers just the way they are. And I don't like all this talk about newspapers online. I don't want my newspaper online; I want it on lawn, preferably by breakfast.

I want to plop it down next to my low-fat Cheerios, and I want to turn those big, awkward pages one by one, so that one corner is always hanging over the edge of the table and then the cat walks by, knocking half of the features section on the floor.

Ink stains

I even like the way the cheap ink stains my fingers. I don't want anybody messing too much with newspapers. I figure it's worth it to fill out a survey if it means preserving what's good in life.

The local car dealership always has somebody call me after I take the car in for service, to see how it went. I tell them, "Your prices are ridiculous and you treat people like dirt." They apologize and thank me for my feedback.

Then the next time I go there, their prices are ridiculous and they treat me like dirt. But they never fail to call because they really care about quality.

Newspapers aside, it seems like pollsters are running rampant, but I don't think you can rely on the results because the people who answer by and large have no life. Otherwise, they wouldn't be answering polls and surveys. For most of my adult life, I have barely had time to chew. Now I have time to answer polls; I am a demographic aberration.

Also, people can misunderstand surveys. For instance, surveys often have a question about income, but providing that information is optional. I always check the box for the income I would like to have. I figure that's what optional means.

Lies abound

People also lie in surveys. I was in a consumer confidence poll during the recession in 1992. I told them we were planning to replace all our furniture and buy two new cars in the next year. Actually I was looking for work. By lying, I singlehandedly sparked the greatest run-up in the history of Wall Street. You're welcome.

When you see the results of polls and surveys reported as if some great truth has been discovered, just keep in mind that people like me answer these things.

Dick George, a humorist whose work frequently is broadcast on National Public Radio, writes from Baldwin.

Pub Date: 2/01/99

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