Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of a push poll? In case you don't know, a push poll is a classic feature of the political dirty-trick playbook: People are called and asked to participate in a seemingly impartial opinion poll. The questions, though, are designed to skew the results. Thus, supporters of Candidate A might call people and ask questions like, "If you found out that Candidate B liked to molest hamsters, would that make you more or less likely to vote for him?" They have thus planted the idea that Candidate B has some seriously aberrational proclivities; furthermore, when the pollsters receive overwhelmingly negative responses, they can disingenuously claim that, in a recent poll, a vast majority of people now express themselves "less likely" to vote for Candidate B.
(Even if the tactic backfires and generates a large positive response, the pollsters could always spin it and say that Candidate B is a favorite of hamster-molesters.)
We have never participated in a push poll, but we saw a slightly more subtle version of one the other day. At the Kaiser Permanente pharmacy, a sign encourages customers to fill out a survey that they will receive in the mail. It asks them to measure their level of satisfaction with various aspects of the pharmacy's services, using a typical scale: Very Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, No Opinion, Satisfied, Very Satisfied. So far, so good.
The catch, though, is that, after each question, the survey makes the following request: "If you answered 'Dissatisfied' or 'Very Dissatisfied,' please explain what we could do to improve."
We can just imagine the recipient: "Oh! A survey from those pharmacy bastards! They make me wait an hour and screw up my order every time! I am SO going to check off 'Very Dissatisfied'! I-- Wait. Oh, man, I have to write something? Sigh. Never mind . . . ."
All we're saying is, we would be far more interested to see how many people had "No Opinion" than how many were "Satisfied."