At least once or twice a week the American public will be alerted that some new survey has a huge impact on their daily lives and that they should stop everything and pay attention to whatever the survey says. This survey research comes from a huge variety of sources and covers a lot of different topics, from what character traits women find most attractive in men to the predicted outcome of the next presidential election. Most of these surveys are taken as hard facts, and many people find themselves changing their behavior to follow whatever the survey says, only to be told something completely different a few months down the road…
Though survey research is often a highly scientific, accurate form of study, it’s important to pay attention to the fine print when regarding any sort of survey research. Though many surveys make efforts to be as impartial and scientific as possible, many others make absolutely no attempts to be scientific and end up with terrible results.
One important factor to consider when regarding survey research is to pay attention to who administered the survey. For example, did the American Beef Council conduct a survey on people’s favorite dinnertime meal? Did McDonald’s conduct a survey on people’s favorite hamburger? Though it’s possible for a company or organization to conduct an impartial survey when they have some sort of stake in the results, it’s usually pretty unlikely. For example, McDonald’s may conduct survey research regarding America’s favorite hamburger, but only give the survey to people who buy food at McDonald’s. This group will probably have a predisposition to favoring McDonald’s food over other hamburgers since they’re already eating in McDonald’s to begin with.
Another important element of survey research to consider is the size of the survey’s sample group. Surveys become more accurate and more representative of the entire population with larger and larger sample groups. For example, if a study is attempting to find out what toothpaste families use, the study will be more accurate if they survey 500 families than if they survey 50.
Finally, pay attention to how those polled for the survey research were selected. If the survey was done completely randomly, for example, through random digit telephone dialing, it is probably a better sample than if it was completed voluntarily. For example, if a survey polled people on a conservative web site, their responses are more likely to be conservative since they had the interest to navigate to that web site in the first place.