Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dantzing With Pollsters

I didn't answer, waiting for them to leave a message.  They called twice yesterday.  Once he must have been paying attention to something else and missed the message because he said, "Steve?"  six or seven times on voice mail.

But they left no messages.  I googled "Dantz 925 948 9469" and got 2012 stuff at 800Notes:

"R Squared
Just got a call today from that number. This is research center conducting statistics for the upcoming elections. The agent asks: "are you going to vote during the upcoming elections?" And you answer yes or no. That was it.
Caller: Research Center
Call Type: Survey"

This number has called me several times in the past few days. I don't pick up and they don't leave a message. I tried calling back, but it said the number wasn't in service."
Why are they calling?

Well, basically, they are calling you to get information from you that they get paid to gather.

OK, pollsters call for different reasons.

  1. On the top of the pecking order (for me)  are academic researchers who are trying gain understanding of some issue or human behavior and the results of their research will be available to all and might give us more insight into how the world works.
  2.  Political pollsters whose data are available to anyone.  They are trying to get a handle on a coming election or some other issue.  And to improve their reputations so clients will pay them to do private polls. 
  3.  Pollsters who get paid by a political candidate so that candidate can see how close the election is and to figure out the best way to reach voters with his message or get voters to actually vote.

  4. Pollsters who get paid by PACs or other political operators who want to figure out how to get a particular candidate elected or a particular initiative to pass or be defeated.

It's not unreasonable during an election, to try to get a sense of how likely it is for one candidate or another to win, especially if you are one of the candidates.  Nor is it unreasonable for candidates to try to get a sense of which issues are most important to the voters.  But some candidates do this more honorably than others.

And nowadays, when outside PACS have tens of millions of dollars to spend to manipulate an election, things get less honorable and reasonable.

What Do You Owe The Pollsters?

They're making money off of your information.  You didn't invite them to call.  In fact you may even be on the "do not call registry."  While I think there can be a public benefit for answering the calls of academic pollsters, and there are honest politicians who are legitimately gathering information to better get their message out (rather than to pander to whatever the voters seem to want to hear),  it's hard to tell which pollster is which.

A good, legitimate pollster will tell you which organization they work for, but not necessarily who their client is, particularly if it's a political poll.  Knowing the client might bias the respondent's answers.

Basically, I've come to the conclusion that I don't owe them answers.  I don't owe them picking up the phone, answering their questions, or if I do answer, I don't have an obligation to tell the truth. 

I do owe them a modicum of respect and friendliness.  After all, these are people who are trying to earn a living in difficult economic times.  Of course, this goes with all transactions.  And if they are not respectful or friendly back, you don't even owe them this.  Though, staying polite, if uncooperative, shows them you are a nobler person.

Can You Have Fun With Pollsters?

Happiness is all about finding the positive in what you encounter in life.  Look toward these calls as an opportunity to be playful.  Some options.

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  No problem, I charge $120 per hour, with a 15 minute minimum.  Send me a $30 check and when you call back I'll be happy to answer for up to 15 minutes.

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  And I'd like to ask you some questions too.   Let me ask you some questions and depending on your answers, I'll then let you ask me.
1.  Who do you work for and where are you calling from?  [This one they should answer - at least the polling company, not the client]
2   And what client is paying you to do this poll?
3.  How much are you getting paid per hour?
4.  If your company is getting paid and you're getting paid for my information, don't you think it is reasonable that I get paid too?

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  Sure, no problem, but I don't promise to answer honestly.  [This has sometimes ended the call and other times not.]

Pollster:  Hello, I'd like to ask you some questions about the upcoming election.
Answer:  Hey, I'm sorry that the economy is so bad that you've had to stoop to making these kinds of calls.  What did you do before?  or What is your degree in?

If you get a particularly nasty push poll (where they give you leading questions and the poll isn't to get information, but to influence your vote by slandering a candidate) you can
1.  record the call (in Alaska it's legal to record a call if one party knows it's being recorded - for an overview of this one-party consent nationally see here) and then send the recording to the slandered candidate so they know what's going on.  If both parties must consent in your state, you can simply tell them "I hope you don't mind but I record all my calls" or you can just ask if they mind and if they do, say, "Sorry then. Goodbye."
2.  move to your computer and type up their scripts as they read them.  You can ask them to slow down and repeat questions because you can't hear them or because you need to think about it.  You can make a 30 second call take five minutes.  It will drive them crazy.  And you can send your transcript of the questions to the candidate they are trashing.

Another activity is to try to get the pollster off their script.  If it's a legitimate poll, they should be asking each person the exact same question and not give any extra information, except to repeat the question.  But these folks have been doing a lot of calling and they can get bored and might be susceptible to a little subterfuge of their polls.

Again, try to ascertain what kind of poll it is.  The most reputable will tell you who they are and possibly what the poll is about (if that doesn't bias the information.)  For instance:

Pollster:  Hi, I'm calling from the University of X and I'd like to ask you some questions about health care.  The information will be confidential, your name will not be on the response sheet I keep, though we will have a coded identifier. 

But remember, a lot of university polling is done, not really for academic research, but because the university is being paid by a client to gather the information.  Sometimes this might be for a state agency, other times it could be for a private company.  You can ask and if they won't tell, you can politely decline.

Make this into a little dance of wits.  A game you play with the pollsters.  With a little imagination you can change how you view pollsters, change them from a nuisance into   pollsterade.  Think of each new call as a challenging game.  Some of the callers will enjoy it too if you're polite and clever about it. 

One more catch - robot calls.  You can't play with them usually because they aren't programed to hear you.  The best I can think to do is just not respond and make them use up as much time as possible before they automatically hang up.  If they do respond to voice, tell them you only respond to real people. Or try "Operator" to get a real person.  But don't hold your breath. 

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