Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Voice of The American People

Back when Craig Kilborn still hosted the Late Late Show, he made a really funny (imho) suggestion about filling out our census forms.

"Did you all get your census forms? I have an idea. You know where it says race? Let's all check 'Eskimo' and see what happens."

Snarky jokes aside, there's something mildly frightening about the idea that statistics could be the basis of important policy decisions. Yes, yes, I've taken statistics classes and I know why and how (or, at least, I have old class notes that tell me why and how) a small sampling can actually serve as a remarkably good indicator of larger overall trends in society. But what if people lie? Or what if they're just plain dumb?

Here's what made me think about this: I am one of the newest members of the exclusive Gallup Poll Panel. I didn't do anything special to get this honor; I was simply sitting at home one night and answered the phone when Gallup called. Although I could pretend I was hard at work, I was really just watching TV, so I agreed to answer their survey questions. There were only like four of them, and when they finished with the survey they asked me the standard household data questions (Married or single? Rent or own? Employed/unemployed/student? Etc.). When I finished with that, the guy said, "oh, wow." Needless to say, I was intrigued. He explained that the computer system had randomly selected me to be a member of the Gallup Poll Panel, which would mean responding to their surveys a couple of times a month. At first I was hesitant -- my Myers-Briggs tells me I'm cautious by nature -- but the guy assured me that this was an exclusive and important club. Far be it from me to turn down an opportunity to be exclusive and important. So I accepted and was promised a packet in the mail that I would be asked to fill out and return, after which time I would officially be a part of the Panel and I could start telling Gallup what The American People think.

So today I was filling out the survey, which is pretty basic and multiple-choice. I knew I had reason to be nervous for our country when I got to the second question.

2. What is your marital status?
  • Single
  • Married
  • Separated
  • Divorced
  • Widowed
  • Don't know

Now, I'm a pretty open-minded person. At first, it kind of made me want to laugh that someone might actually *not know* whether or not he or she was or had ever been married. But then I thought of that episode of Friends where Ross was supposed to get a divorce from Rachel, but he was still in love with her so he didn't, but he never told her because he didn't want to make her mad. So I guess Rachel wouldn't have known whether she was married. So I read on:

4. Are you the adult in this household who is the primary decision-maker for making major purchase decisions?

  • I am the primary decision-maker
  • Another adult in the household is the primary decision-maker
  • I equally share the responsibility for making major purchase decisions
  • Don't know

This one I found a little bit more troubling. You would think you would know if you're supposed to ask permission before buying something. At the very least, you *really* ought to know who it is who's making the money, and whether that person is okay with you buying things with his or her money. But I guess this is one of those things that married couples fight about a lot -- so I *suppose* I could see someone not really knowing if he or she had the right to make major purchasing decisions, or to what extent, or whether the other person is the one who *really* holds the purse strings. Or maybe you just don't want to admit the truth. Reading on:

11. Do you run a business out of your household?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know

Now. I'm assuming here that Gallup isn't particularly concerned about how you would classify your major sources of income on your tax return. I can understand how that question would trip anyone up. Like, even a tax attorney. But the basic question of whether you run a business out of your household seems, to me, a pretty simple one. If you're doing something in your home that directly makes you money, and you're not telecommuting, then you're running a business. Right? Maybe I'm just too black and white about things. I think this next question was my favorite:

18. Do you currently have any of the following pets? (Mark all that apply)

  • Dog
  • Cat
  • Gerbil/mouse/rat/ferret/hamster
  • Bird
  • Fish
  • Reptile
  • Horse
  • Don't know

I mean, come on. Vermin don't count as pets. You would know if you had a *pet*.

Fortunately, I did know the correct answer to each of these questions. I haven't felt that way since I started law school. So, Gallup's done one good thing so far: it's restored my faith in myself. On the other hand, it's also made me a little worried about everyone else. But fear not, my friends -- The Voice of The American People is being joined by yours truly. I'll try to make you proud.

2 Comments:

At January 23, 2005 at 7:58 PM, Blogger Micah said...

Are you also a Nielsen household? If so, please watch "Arrested Development." Fox has a habit of prematurely cancelling great shows. Watch "Scrubs," too.

That's really odd about the "Don't Know" options.

 
At January 24, 2005 at 9:52 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

I wish! I'd love to somehow be able to help out Arrested Development.

"My schedule is as wide open as my marriage!"

Awesome.

 

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