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Opening Arguments

Skew you

A new survey shows folks in South Bend are just oozing optimism (so the headline says), with 70 percent of the people saying they are hopeful about the future. The city hired a firm from Alabama (what, no Hoosier pollsters available?) to "measure the effectiveness of South Bend Redevelopment Commission's contract with a firm hired to help promote Ignition Park and Innovation Park." That just sounds like a big waste of money, doesn't it? Some people also doubt the results as well as the intent:

But some are skeptical that 70 percent of people are actually hopeful about the economy, especially since the economic picture looks much different.

"They are not good. Things are slowing down, slowing down all over," said Dan Kane, of South Bend.

"It is terrible," Brianna Gordon, of South Bend, said of the economy. "There is no economic growth in South Bend."

So how did the city manage to find that seven out of 10 people are hopeful? Darrin Davis, a political science professor at Notre Dame and an expert on polling, says 64 percent of those questioned were older than the age of 51.

"Older adults are more likely to have jobs," Davis said.

Davis says this age bias could be skewing the results of the economic question, as well as other questions in the survey. Not only that, but Davis said the survey asks questions most people know nothing about, questions about Innovation Park or the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery at Notre Dame.

"Part of the problems with surveys is they tend to assert opinions and attitudes where they don't exist," Davis said. "Through the types of questions we ask, people respond in such a way that it appears they have thought through these responses when they actually haven't."

People try to figure out what the pollster wants and give responses accordingly -- people who even bother to answer polls would be that type of person, wouldn't they? And age isn't the only thing likely to skew the results of a poll. Besides the obvious things such as race and sex and religious upbringing, a pollster is liable to hit a pocket of people who got mad at something they saw on TV that morning or people who slep wrong and woke up a a backache.

I'm starting to believe that anytime a city commissions a poll -- about anything -- there is at least a prima facie case that somebody needs to be fired or voted out of office.