‘Tis the season of research, where we all want to know what people think, and we depend upon research companies to tell us.
So research “A” informs us that 55% of probable (how probable?) voters prefer Clinton, and research “B” tells us that 51% of registered voters prefer Trump.
Then there’s research “C” which says that 60% of adults despise both candidates, and research “D” says 10% of those who say they despise both candidates actually will vote for Trump, but are too embarrassed to admit it, for fear of being thought stupid.
And, in the end, they all will be wrong. And we knew they would be wrong, though in two years, having learned nothing, we’ll go through the nonsense, again.
It may be more difficult to obtain useful information from a research program than simply to ask one smart person for his opinion.
This thought occurred to me today, when shortly after having bought a new car, I received in the mail, a research form. It came from MaritzCX of Toledo, OH, and was signed by Terry Phillips, Sr. Director, Automotive Research Group (ARGSyndicated@MaritzCX.com).
To encourage me to complete the form, I was offered an entry into a sweepstakes containing seven prizes, maximum value, $10,000, but mostly $1,000.
To conduct worthwhile (i.e predictive or evaluative) research, one must have controls, and these controls must involve such things as:
- Who is your audience? That is:
- The characteristics of the recipients.
- The characteristics of the respondents
- The many personal factors affecting truthfulness
- The research environment
- Phrasing of questions
- The goals of the research. (What do you want to learn?)
- The length of the procedure
- The questions themselves
The list goes on and on. Research is really, really difficult to do well, and really, really easy to do poorly.
The car research form I received, was a monster. It consisted of 10 pages, small type, encompassing about 1,000 (!) questions.
And these were not simple “yes” or “no” questions. Most were multiple choice, with 5 or six alternatives (“Choose one”). Others were multiple choice, many answers (“Choose all that are right”)
I estimate that to do a thoughtful, accurate job, a respondent would need to set aside at least 3 seconds to answer each question. This comes to almost an hour.
What kind of person would do that? What is the nature of the person who:
- Receives what appears to be junk mail and actually opens it.
- Then bothers to read it,
- Then decides to answer the questions,
- And doesn’t quit part way through,
- Answers all questions honestly,
- And mails it all back?
Is that person “average,” “typical” or “representative” of some desired group? And, by the way, what is the desired group?
Here is what I think: The person who fits all six of the above categories is not average, typical or representative of any desired group. He or she probably:
- Just loves entering sweepstakes.
- Has lots of spare time.
- But still will tire about midway through, so won’t finish
- And doesn’t care about answering honestly, but just wants to check any answer so as to enter the sweepstakes.
Based on the research company’s analysis, the client (probably an auto manufacturer), will devote many millions of dollars to a marketing strategy, including advertising, sales literature, and auto design — even the on-site strategy of car dealers.
If a million questionnaires were mailed, and an optimistic 10,000 returned (1%), the likelihood of even one response being average, typical or representative approaches 0.
Meanwhile, a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos will come along and do what research could not have uncovered. Think about the problem and come up with a logical solution.
Does this mean research is useless? No. Actually, most research is worse than useless like maps that send you in the wrong direction.
For example, if you were to send questionnaires to 100,000 people, asking these questions:
- Do you want the federal debt reduced? Why?
- Do you want the federal deficit reduced? Why?
- Do you want the federal government to live within its means? Why?
- Do you want the federal government to run a balanced budget? Why?
- Do you want Social Security benefits cut? Why?
- Do you want federal taxes to be increased? Why?
- Should taxpayers have to pay for the federal debt? Why?
- What will happen if China demands the return of the money it lent us? Why?
- Should illegal immigrants be allowed to use up your taxpayer dollars? Why?
- Should you be required to pay FICA? Why?
You may receive 1,000 responses (1%), and the likelihood is that 0 will answer all 10 questions in some meaningful way.
If you were running for political office, and relied on those answers, how would they affect your platform?
The car research form I received asked my opinion about hundreds of things like economy vs. prestige, or the environment vs. safety.
And there, the same problem exists: Most (all?) people simply do not know their own opinions, or will not reveal them, and this is especially true when confronted with a real buying (or real voting) decision. Most research is like that.
So, what to do? What to do?
Nothing will work perfectly, but several steps can be helpful:
- Simplify. A monster questionnaire , trying to get the answers to a thousand questions, is silly. Perhaps 5 questions could get more accurate answers.
- Focus. Direct your questions to a specific audience.
- Use the results. Use the answers to your first, simple questionnaire to create a second questionnaire , to verify or augment the first.
- Variety. Don’t use the same words and the same questions in the same order, repeatedly. Learn how phrasing and question order affect the answers.
- Reality. Where appropriate, test market or try to use a realistic (buying, voting, choosing etc.) action situation, rather than a questionnaire .
- Experience: Chances are, this research already has been done. Search for examples. What was learned? What went wrong and what went right?
I could continue endlessly with what good research requires, and I may already have spent too much space on this complex subject. But it all boils down to this: That 10-page, all-purpose questionnaire was a waste of time and money.
Worse, it will devolve into a 100-page analysis, which will provide thousands of erroneous conclusions.
Then one day, you will read an article saying something like, “67% of people 50 and older, would rather have easier ingress to the back seat than have a faster car.”
And the car manufacturer will spend millions to make his back seats more accessible — like an Edsel — while a competitor will create a fast, impossible-to-enter car, that will dominate car sales. Happens all the time.
Cars are complicated. Consumers have a choice of so many brands and options.
But consider the Presidential election. There are just two real options: Him or her. Should be simple to research, right?
But the research firms will make thousands of phone interviews (with the kind of people who answer land line phones) and receive thousands of mail responses (from the kind of people who answer mass mailings) and do thousands of street interviews (with the kind of people who will spend time talking to a stranger).
And they will ask these unusual people questions (that may or may not be understood) who may or may not give accurate, honest answers.
And then they will multiply those questionable answers from questionable people, by various, arbitrarily determined factors, to come up with predictions based on misunderstandings, lies, and erroneous math.
And soon you’ll hear that “55% of young voters are [likely to vote this way]. . . and 38% of female voters not [likely to vote that way] . . . ” and it all will prove wrong.
In the next few months, you may be amazed, or gratified, or upset by research findings. You may be tempted to believe them.
But now you know they are fantasy, created by research organizations that rake in billions, just to create fantasy.
How do I know? I once was in the creative writing . . . er, ah . . . research business.
So tell me, who will be the next President, and more importantly, why do you think so?
My prediction: Clinton. Why? Because when the chips are down, I believe Americans are too smart to vote for Trump.
That’s my research. What’s yours?
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Ten Steps to Prosperity:
1. ELIMINATE FICA (Ten Reasons to Eliminate FICA )
Although the article lists 10 reasons to eliminate FICA, there are two fundamental reasons:
*FICA is the most regressive tax in American history, widening the Gap by punishing the low and middle-income groups, while leaving the rich untouched, and
*The federal government, being Monetarily Sovereign, neither needs nor uses FICA to support Social Security and Medicare.
2. FEDERALLY FUNDED MEDICARE — PARTS A, B & D, PLUS LONG TERM CARE — FOR EVERYONE (H.R. 676, Medicare for All )
This article addresses the questions:
*Does the economy benefit when the rich afford better health care than the rest of Americans?
*Aside from improved health care, what are the other economic effects of “Medicare for everyone?”
*How much would it cost taxpayers?
*Who opposes it?”
3. PROVIDE AN ECONOMIC BONUS TO EVERY MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD IN AMERICA, AND/OR EVERY STATE, A PER CAPITA ECONOMIC BONUS (The JG (Jobs Guarantee) vs the GI (Guaranteed Income) vs the EB) Or institute a reverse income tax.
This article is the fifth in a series about direct financial assistance to Americans:
Why Modern Monetary Theory’s Employer of Last Resort is a bad idea. Sunday, Jan 1 2012
MMT’s Job Guarantee (JG) — “Another crazy, rightwing, Austrian nutjob?” Thursday, Jan 12 2012
Why Modern Monetary Theory’s Jobs Guarantee is like the EU’s euro: A beloved solution to the wrong problem. Tuesday, May 29 2012
“You can’t fire me. I’m on JG” Saturday, Jun 2 2012
Economic growth should include the “bottom” 99.9%, not just the .1%, the only question being, how best to accomplish that. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) favors giving everyone a job. Monetary Sovereignty (MS) favors giving everyone money. The five articles describe the pros and cons of each approach.
4. FREE EDUCATION (INCLUDING POST-GRAD) FOR EVERYONEFive reasons why we should eliminate school loans
Monetarily non-sovereign State and local governments, despite their limited finances, support grades K-12. That level of education may have been sufficient for a largely agrarian economy, but not for our currently more technical economy that demands greater numbers of highly educated workers.
Because state and local funding is so limited, grades K-12 receive short shrift, especially those schools whose populations come from the lowest economic groups. And college is too costly for most families.
An educated populace benefits a nation, and benefiting the nation is the purpose of the federal government, which has the unlimited ability to pay for K-16 and beyond.
5. SALARY FOR ATTENDING SCHOOL
Even were schooling to be completely free, many young people cannot attend, because they and their families cannot afford to support non-workers. In a foundering boat, everyone needs to bail, and no one can take time off for study.
If a young person’s “job” is to learn and be productive, he/she should be paid to do that job, especially since that job is one of America’s most important.
6. ELIMINATE CORPORATE TAXES
Corporations themselves exist only as legalities. They don’t pay taxes or pay for anything else. They are dollar-tranferring machines. They transfer dollars from customers to employees, suppliers, shareholders and the government (the later having no use for those dollars).
Any tax on corporations reduces the amount going to employees, suppliers and shareholders, which diminishes the economy. Ultimately, all corporate taxes come around and reappear as deductions from your personal income.
7. INCREASE THE STANDARD INCOME TAX DEDUCTION, ANNUALLY. (Refer to this.) Federal taxes punish taxpayers and harm the economy. The federal government has no need for those punishing and harmful tax dollars. There are several ways to reduce taxes, and we should evaluate and choose the most progressive approaches.
Cutting FICA and corporate taxes would be an good early step, as both dramatically affect the 99%. Annual increases in the standard income tax deduction, and a reverse income tax also would provide benefits from the bottom up. Both would narrow the Gap.
8. TAX THE VERY RICH (THE “.1%) MORE, WITH HIGHER PROGRESSIVE TAX RATES ON ALL FORMS OF INCOME. (TROPHIC CASCADE)
There was a time when I argued against increasing anyone’s federal taxes. After all, the federal government has no need for tax dollars, and all taxes reduce Gross Domestic Product, thereby negatively affecting the entire economy, including the 99.9%.
But I have come to realize that narrowing the Gap requires trimming the top. It simply would not be possible to provide the 99.9% with enough benefits to narrow the Gap in any meaningful way. Bill Gates reportedly owns $70 billion. To get to that level, he must have been earning $10 billion a year. Pick any acceptable Gap (1000 to 1?), and the lowest paid American would have to receive $10 million a year. Unreasonable.
9. FEDERAL OWNERSHIP OF ALL BANKS (Click The end of private banking and How should America decide “who-gets-money”?)
Banks have created all the dollars that exist. Even dollars created at the direction of the federal government, actually come into being when banks increase the numbers in checking accounts. This gives the banks enormous financial power, and as we all know, power corrupts — especially when multiplied by a profit motive.
Although the federal government also is powerful and corrupted, it does not suffer from a profit motive, the world’s most corrupting influence.
10. INCREASE FEDERAL SPENDING ON THE MYRIAD INITIATIVES THAT BENEFIT AMERICA’S 99.9% (Federal agencies)Browse the agencies. See how many agencies benefit the lower- and middle-income/wealth/ power groups, by adding dollars to the economy and/or by actions more beneficial to the 99.9% than to the .1%.
Save this reference as your primer to current economics. Sadly, much of the material is not being taught in American schools, which is all the more reason for you to use it.
The Ten Steps will grow the economy, and narrow the income/wealth/power Gap between the rich and you.