The Value of An Opinion

What is your opinion worth? If it is in the comments section of an online news article, it is not worth much at all. No one cares what you think unless you insult someone’s entrenched point of view. In your Direct Messages or email or apps, though, you might think your opinion can actually help to change policies or procedures somewhere in the alternative universe where things actually happen. I thought the same way until this week.

Once upon a time, opinion polls helped us understand the populace. We relied on professional opinion pollsters to gather information and present it to us objectively. They gave us statistics and charts we thought we could rely on. But, that was a long time ago. Ten years, at least.

In recent years a couple of things have changed. One is that opinion polling has become a big money-maker for the polling companies. The media, in its many forms, is happy to pay for that data and some of them will pay only for preferred outcomes. Another thing that has changed is that everyone and their dog now wants our opinions. It’s not only about big issues. It could be our local electrician or our community centre or the last business we bought something from or our national politician. They all want to know what we think about them or their work.

This week I have been asked to contribute to five different opinion polls. Five! And, it’s only Thursday. Don’t get me wrong. I do have opinions. Lots of them. I have protested; I have marched; I have been to rallies; I have given star ratings; I have evaluated products and services; and I have written to people who matter. Now, though, I’m backing off. I think I have reached maximum poll data participation.

I still trust professional poll-takers but they have been swamped by the amateurs, the product vendors, and the partisans. My willingness to share my experiences and evaluate my perceptions has simply been bombarded by the onslaught of requests for feedback. It’s my own fault. If I had not given responses in the past, perhaps this machine would not have registered my willingness to spend five to ten minutes on really badly-devised questionnaires.

Some polls are, frankly, ridiculous in their detail. They don’t only want to know what I thought of, for example, the reception I was given, they also want to know in picayune details about the person who received me. Really? When it comes to individual people I always give maximum stars. Their job may depend on it. Some questions are unnecessarily intrusive and many are repetitious and/or insulting to the intelligence of the responder.

I suspect all this poll-taking and feedback-getting is a copout for not actually dealing with complaints and problems. The online polls have replaced the opportunity to effectively lodge concerns about roadblocks and corporate failures. And, the ways in which the questions are phrased seem to lay the burden on the poor souls at the front lines rather than at the system or the product or service in question.

If you have a serious concern about an issue, a business, or a product, the best chance for remediation might be to go the traditional media. A local paper, a national paper, or a TV news station might have a better chance at influencing change than anything you could put into a feedback questionnaire. Your opinion, on its own, is not worth much. On the other hand, when it is voiced by an influencer or in concert with many others, you might have a chance at being heard.

The polling industry has, sadly, become a victim of its own success. Now everyone thinks they know how to gather statistics, even though they often don’t. Many are doing it badly and, consequently, my willingness to participate has been exhausted. Now they don’t deserve my thoughts, but that’s just my opinion.


  1. Anne,

    You bring up a GREAT perspective on public polling. Bravo! πŸ™‚

    I do not give a poll much credence at all if the number of people polled isn’t AT LEAST 100,000—which is honestly embarrassingly small anyway! But if a neutral observer wants a near-unbiased survey of a demographic populous, then it’s a no-brainer that the polling number MUST BE LARGE! Even gigantic if it is going to accurately reflect a general TRUE opinion. However, one must take into consideration too what questions are asked and HOW they are framed/asked. IOW, a manipulating rhetoric-expert such as a Karl Rove, will know precisely how to frame questions to achieve results HE WANTS. Make sense?

    And then there is the equitable protocol of expanding a poll into demographics one already knows is oppositional to personal biases. Nevertheless, if the polling contributors isn’t a HUGE number… it’s a waste of time and merely reflects an insignificant number and/or pure propaganda. Period. πŸ˜‰

      1. That may or may not be the case, true. However, at least in the U.S. and being in a “free” country with at minimum a (sort of…) “free” public education up to Grade 12 and state supported/funded PUBLIC under-grad education available—that is insanely expensive!—our societal, civic concept allows Americans the conceptual “freedom” to think critically, to analyze equitably and wisely on their own the data sets and polls. Americans also have the choice, the “freedom” to be illiterate, uninformed, and uneducated citizens to recognize gross inaccuracies, bogus propaganda, and when a survey/poll is tiny, too small to be truthful. Or when that survey/poll has flawed faulty control parameters or biased demographics within.

        Care to guess what path—in learned statistics & controlled experiments, etc.—the majority of Americans choose after (hopefully?) graduating high school? Yeah, that’s another crappy poll/survey percentage. πŸ€¦β€β™‚οΈ πŸ˜”

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