Part One: Affiliation and pragmatics
The US firm Public Policy Polling released a survey of (likely) US Republican primary voters last week. This firm has a habit of including the occasional question that some people would consider ‘interesting context’ and others would call ‘trolling the respondents.’
This time it was a reference to the conspiracy theory about the Jade Helm military exercises in Texas: “Do you think that the Government is trying to take over Texas or not?”
32% of respondents said “Yes”. 28% said “Not sure”. Less than half were confident there wasn’t an attempt to take over Texas. There doesn’t seem to be widespread actual belief in the annexation theory, in the sense that no-one is doing anything to prepare for or prevent it. We can be pretty sure that most of the 60% were not telling the truth. Their answer was an expression of affiliation rather than an accurate reflection of their beliefs. That sort of thing can be problem for polling.
Part Two: Mode effects and social pressure
The American Association for Public Opinion Research is having their annual conference, so there’s new and exciting survey research coming out (to the extent that ‘new and exciting survey research’ isn’t an oxymoron). The Pew Research Center took two random groups of 1500 people from one of their panels and asked one group questions over the phone and the other group the same questions on a web form. For most questions the two groups agreed pretty well: not much more difference than you’d expect from random sampling variability. For some questions, the differences were big:
It’s not possible to tell from these data which set of answers is more accurate, but the belief in the field is that people give more honest answers to computers than to other people.