Monday, October 30, 2006

bias in surveys

It is easy to get the answers you want from a survey. All you have to do is write the questions to 'encourage' the answers you want. Of course, the purpose of a survey is NOT to get the answers you want, so this is more of an example of what NOT to do.

Here is a good example. This is a survey to see if the respondent has libertarian views.

Question 1a) Do you believe in free speech? Answer 1a) Of course!!!
Question 1b) Do you believe that terrorists should be able to promote hatred of the United States on college campuses and in town centers? Answer 1b) Well . . . .

Question 2a) Do you believe that the government should end corporate welfare and stop giving handouts to companies? Answer 2a) Strongly!!!
Question 2b) Do you believe the government should provide R&D support for alternative energy and other promising new technologies? Of course they should!!

As you can see, the average person would come out as a libertarian using survey a) but not in survey b).

This also shows the importance of using examples. When you use an example, the question's implication becomes much clearer. But what you have to do to ensure objectivity is to provide an example on both sides so that you don't bias the answer.