It’s not just the publication of my book Consumer.ology here in the UK that is putting market research under spotlight.

I recently had this article on the BBC website by Michael Blastland forwarded to me:

Beware the Don’t Know Brigade

He has hit on a topic that was covered in part by David Moore’s book “The Opinion Makers”; in it the former Gallup man revealed some of the dramatic differences you get to questions, depending on whether you offer the option “Or don’t you have an opinion.”

As Blastland points out this is only part of the issue.  The wider context is all important in determining how we react to something, as is the detail of the issue in question.

“Do you want your children to have a wonderful state education?”
“Would you like to end world poverty?”

Many people would say say an unhesitating “Yes” to these in a survey.  But such initiatives come at a price.  The focus of the question, and often the questions before it, may do a great job of sensitising respondents to the social issue concerned (particularly if a self-interested party is behind the research), but such visions are much more difficult to cost (so the fact that 90% of your income will be taken in tax to fund this educational reform isn’t discussed).

Of course, I’m being extreme to make a point.  But the reality is that even if any one question were to be accurately described from a cost perspective for a research study of this kind, it wouldn’t exist in the vacuum it does for the research: respondents don’t know about the separate polls being conducted for other initiatives that will require their tax pounds to fund and, even if they did, it is unlikely they would create an accurate total in their own minds before responding so focused would they be on the issue being deconstructed for the research.

As I point out in Consumer.ology, there are a whole host of reasons why people can’t give accurate responses in opinion polls; the fact that, arguably, a lot more people should be “don’t know’s” is the tip of much, much larger iceberg.

Philip Graves

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