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15.6: Cautions for Careful Communicators
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- particularly around political elections, news organizations use opinion surveys to track only the horse-race aspect of the race, crowding out more analytical and in-depth reporting about the substance of candidates’ positions on the issues.
- news reports about survey results may actually affect public opinion or behavior; there are a number of documented instances where the use of a particular technique called an “exit poll” (asking people who they voted for as they leave the polling place) has resulted in a news organization declaring a victor in a national election before the polls have closed across the country, resulting in people waiting in line at the polling place leaving before casting their vote.
- marketing firms may interpret the results of a survey about consumer preferences in a way that suppresses innovation; how many people would have answered “yes” to the question about whether they wanted a camera in their mobile phone before such a thing became common place?
- advertisers use survey data in the actual content of the ads in a way that may be misleading or confusing; for example, an ad may say that “2 out of 3 dentists recommend” a type of baking-soda toothpaste for healthier teeth and gums; the advertiser may have the survey results to substantiate that claim, but what the ad doesn’t say is that the dentists also recommended flouride toothpaste, dental floss, and mouthwashes; and furthermore, the pollsters only interviewed 100 dentists.