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Opinion Polls. Do they have any value? To be honest, in many cases, not really. Loaded or contrived questions designed to get a one-sided and uninformed view? Yes, sometimes.
How about a set of questions that are designed to lead someone into thinking they are being sensible and objective, while only having the sole intention of getting one result. That's another way of looking at it.
Whatever you may think of opinion polls, they are are mostly trivial exercises with no real value. But, there are exceptions.
Before we discuss opinion polls, let's look at one columnist's review of a previous Amercian Presidential Election. This will give you some idea of how polling systems can be rigged to obtain a specific result:
The Stolen Presidential Elections (opens in a new window)
The point here is that the more important the poll, the more some unscrupulous and desperate people will do to rig it. Of course, it's usually not an indication of illegal activity. But with any poll, of and description or importance, we need to approach them with caution.
Let's face it: Who would want to organise an opinion poll anyways? Light-hearted ones are of no real consequence. But those paid for by certain interested parties can sometimes be designed to benefit the sponsor
Here's an example:
I invent a new washing-up liquid. I call it 'Splasho'. It can clean as twice as many dishes than the leading brand - but for the same price!
Only problem with my product is that it's not very good for the environment. In fact, I'd say it's borderline dangerous. Still, no worries, I get it approved by all the appropriate regulating authorities and I get it to market.
Now I want to raise consumer awareness. I approach a polling agency and ask them to interview members of the public. I set the questions.
Each pollster asks 100 people in each area they visit around the country. They are given the first question: "Do you know there is a new washing-up liquid on the market called 'Splasho', and that it can wash twice as many dishes as the leading brand - and for the same price?"
As the product is band new, and just about to hit the shelves, about 95% reply 'no'. 5% say they may have heard or read about it.
The pollster than asks, with a perfomance like this, would you start to use 'Splasho' and give up your current preferred washing-up liquid?
50% say yes, 40% say they would give it a try, 8% say they are unsure, 2% said no.
So, 9 out of every 10 people who responded said they would at least try the product. Wow! Good thing only 2% thought to ask if it was safe to use!
I then advertise my product on TV with the boast that 9 our of 10 would like to try 'Splasho'. I set-up a nice image of an attractive, middle-class woman with children, and a puppy, and perhaps some goldfish, and use a soft-focus lens and artificial sunlight streaming through the kitchen window. Everone is smiling, including the goldfish. Domestic heaven!
At the end of the commercial I flash a disclaimer for about one nanosecond that says the product may not be suitable for everyone (because it is so borderline dangerous).
Next day, stocks are sold out within the first hour. You cannot get my 'Splasho' for love or money. I start to rake in lots of money. 'Lovely Jubbly', as Delboy (from Only Fools and Horses) would say. Except in my case, I'd be saying 'Lovely Bubbly'.
Job very well done! Especially loved that successful opinion polling campaign! Not only did I raise public awareness, the people interviewed are now telling their friends about 'Splasho'. And those friends are telling their friends too! About 1,000 people interviewed. Lots of them blogging or telling lots of other people, or doing something to promote the product for me.
The bottom line here is that I have taken a very toxic substance and remarketed it as a Godsend for financially hard-pressed consumers. OK, I had to contrive all of my science, testing, stats, etc., before I could get it approved. But that wasn't too difficult. The right people - in the 'right places', the right incentive, the right propaganda, the right ... well, everything - and it all went well!
See how easy it is? Now take my 'Splasho' and substitute in it's place the highly toxic, caustic, poisonous, tainted and dangerous by-product of the phosphate (or possibly aluminium) industry.
These people have a lot more money than me. They can 'influence' enough of the right people to do their bidding using various devices (of which many will not be either ethical, or legal).
Again, job done! 'Splasho' on the shelves and selling like hot cakes! Fluoride in the water and a toxic waste problem solved! We should go into business together!
Now let's consider some fluoride opinion polls.