The Polling Game

27Oct03

Yet another cover story from Outlook based on a survey. Second time in two issues. This time called rather dramatically, MNCs : Villains or Victims ?

In general, I have nothing against polls as a research tool or when used for prediction or post-mortem.

What I am tired of is the way surveys are increasingly being used as substitutes for editorials in magazines. As quick-fix solutions for attention-grabbing cover stories.

Sex and the Indian Woman. The Great Indian Middle-Class. Why We Hate Our Politicians.

And surely enough, there are enough research agencies who have made their name and monies exclusively through such surveys.

It is a win-win situation for both the magazine and the research agency.

As for the research agency, QADR (Quick And Dirty Research) may not generate much monies, but they spawn enough attention towards the agency. QADR begets further QADR till you become a specialist in that field (as a researcher myself, this is a pet peeve, as you can see. But more on this some other time maybe).

And the magazine can get away with just publishing the results of such surveys. As percentage figures. Adding a few jazzy (and unimaginative) graphs here and there.

What about analysis ? editorial opinion ? discretion ?

For instance, in the last issue of Outlook – Why We Hate Our Politicians, there is a question : Do You Vote ? And 95 % (yes, 95%) of those polled have said, YES.

Even the most naïve citizen of this country (or any country for that matter) has an idea about actual voter turn-outs and knows better than to believe this. But Outlook has faithfully published this result without a murmur. With a line at the bottom saying “The vast majority (95%) claims that they vote during elections. In fact, the claim is Total (100%) in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad and is the least in Ahmedabad (87%)?

Yes, I can see that. But what does it mean ?

Why do we need the press if all we are getting are percentages and “expert opinions? to add a wee bit of flesh to these numbers ?

These experts are another story altogether. How can the same experts comment on every single phenomenon that the magazine has chosen to cover ? Then, what is the expert an expert on ? The magazine ? Or the social / political issue at hand ? If I see Shiv Vishwanathan’s name in one more such story, I will freak.

In this rosy win-win situation, the ultimate loser is the reader.

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