At one time or another we’ve all received a survey from an organization or a political campaign.
Sometimes these questionnaires are actually “push-polls.” They say they want your input on a current issue, but the questions are designed to produce opinions favorable to their particular agenda. Is you support for X strong or weak? Is you opposition to Y absolute; in other words, are you a single-issue voter?
There are a number of reasons to be wary when you receive a survey of any kind. If the survey comes from a congressional office, you may be paying for it. This is because members of Congress have franking privileges: postage, preprinted stationary, etc. Franking privileges are closely regulated, and these freebies have diminished in recent years, but the taxpayer still pays for a certain amount of Congressional mailings.
I recently received an “opinion survey” from my Congressional representative titled, “I want to hear from you.” I filled it out as best I could but found none of the little boxes I was supposed to check reflected my more nuanced positions on the issues. I don’t know who paid for the survey, if not the taxpayer, it was someone else.
Since the congressman said he wanted to hear from me, I mailed the survey back with a letter explaining my concerns and asking for a reply. A week later I saw a column in the Times by Cokie and Steve Roberts related to one of the congressman’s questions, copied it and sent another letter.
It was only when I phoned the congressman’s’ D.C. office and mentioned that I was a columnist did I get immediate action. All this is understandable. They’re busy people, but it does illustrate their priorities. Even when I stressed that I was not on staff with the paper, was not technically “media,” and actually no more than a concerned citizen, they were ready to talk. But were they ready to listen? Only time will tell.
I have another problem with some of these surveys. They’ve been used to manipulate public opinion in the war over global warming. I use the word “war” judicially. There is no longer a debate. Scientists have put the probability at over 98 percent.
Here‘s how it’s done: Rate your concern about the following from 1 to 5 ...
• Jobs and the economy
• Affordable health insurance
• The availability of clean water and safe food
• Assuring that our schools are safe and provide a world-class education
• Protection of and investment in the environment
Well, of course, if the economy is falling apart, you can’t find a job, you can’t drink, cook or bathe with the tap water, and sending your kid to school is risky at best, you are going to rank the environment last. Then politicians are going to campaign on the economy, health insurance and so forth. There’s no point in expending their precious political capital on the environment.
When a survey like this comes from an organization, it’s usually seeking support for its cause, and it wants a donation. If it comes from an elected official, he or she is gathering support for re-election.
In both cases, rather than polling your opinion, they’re really seeking a way to frame their political campaign, and they want money.
The environment is pivotal to just about all our concerns and should be at the top of the list, but it doesn’t show up that way in the polls. When you get this kind of push-poll in the mail, try to find out who is paying for it. Remember, environmental groups are often well-funded, but the real money is in the hands of the big corporations.
The following quote is attributed to Chief Seattle: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.