Survey Says...

by Alan J. Claffie

Old news:

Not that we expected anything to change after a mostly uninspired rambling about impatient driving last time out, but it would have been nice to see a little improvement. Instead, it just gets worse.

Recently I saw not once but twice impatience taken to the level of ridiculousness, if that's a word. If it isn't, pointlessness certainly is, and I think it applies here too.

Picture a bunch of traffic approaching a red light on a multi-lane road. Car 1 stops but leaves a couple car lengths between itself and the car in front of it. On two separate occasions, nine hours apart at two different intersections, I saw Car 2 pull up behind Car 1, then hastily change lanes to swing around Car 1 and fill that empty space in front of Car 1.

Now how much of a hurry does one have to perceive himself to be in that he's think the effort to pass one car sitting at a traffic light might make a meaningful difference in his trip? Congratulations, you picked up twenty-five feet and you're back at a standstill. Seriously, way to go.

New news:

We'll start out by saying that survey results can impart some valuable information.

The above shows that I'm not totally negative in this space.

Having said that, I find it hard to believe that survey companies find enough willing participants to get good enough information to compile and disseminate.

I used to do surveys by mail. I was freshly on my own and if it weren't for the surveys that occasionally graced my mailbox, I'd never have any interaction.

But as time went on the surveys became less interesting and commanded less attention. The questions got increasingly repetitive and more time consuming, and I've pretty much stopped participating. Ditto that for the mail surveys' online varieties, which started showing up twice a week even though they really didn't ask very different questions.

Then there are phone surveys. Apparently they don't have to subscribe to Do Not Call lists, since we've been on those since Day One. So they call and ask if I have a minute to take part in a brief survey on some particular subject.

Two things to say right off the bat: It takes way more than a minute and these surveys are never brief.

The most recent one was a survey about the Maryland Lottery. Could be fun, I figure, since I haven't ever been a serious lottery player, just following the masses to play Powerball when the jackpot gets so high that it winds up being an item on WTOP's newscasts.

Those who administer surveys have the worst job ever. They have to deal with people like me.

He says it'll take five minutes. But seriously, folks.

I don't remember the first few questions but he got to a section where I was to give a numerical answer to a bunch of statements: "The Maryland Lottery provides needed money for public schools"... "The Maryland Lottery provides games that are fun to play".... "The Maryland Lottery is well-managed", etc etc. I protested that I had no information with which to form opinions on any of those statements, neither having played any of them nor heard anything good or bad about the management of the lottery. We moved on.

I had to tell him how often I played each of the following Maryland Lottery scratch-off games. He'd name one game, then ask if I played in the last week, more than once a week, once a month, etc etc. I said I never did. He'd name another game, which again I'd never played. So I told him that for each game he's going to tell me, just put down "never" and move on to the next line of questioning.

"I can't do that," he said.

"Why not?"

"I can't assume an answer."

"I'm giving you permission to," I said.

But he kept going on, naming a game and waiting for my answer when all he was getting was the above runaround. Eventually it got to the point where he said the name of a game and I didn't say anything. Then one of us got tired of the runaround and the call was over.

So what I have to know is if anyone actually participates in these things and sticks with them to their conclusion, and if they do, is it enough to produce credible results?

And if people are just screwing around with phone surveys, and the results of those surveys are being used to make important decisions, it might explain why those who rely on said results seem to make occasionally baffling decisions like "hey this town needs another strip mall" or "nobody seems to have a problem with an industrial park right next to a residential area".

It all starts to make sense now.

Send Feedback Via Email

Return to Front Page