Friday, December 21, 2007

Con Artists' Legal Trap--Do You Believe Phone Polls?

--Learn how polls are used by "legal" con artists to support forgone conclusions, promote an agenda, obfuscate, confuse, mislead, and persuade.

So, you thought the purpose of that poll showing 73% of California restaurants now providing salsa as a standing table-top offering was to provide factual data, right?

The true purpose of the poll scam, commissioned by a salsa processor, was to further an agenda--to get you to accept as bald fact that salsa, placed alongside salt, pepper, and sugar in that high percentage of restaurants proves its mass-market appeal.

Intent is to mislead you into believing it has now replaced ketchup as a table-top standby. If truly informative data were sought by a truly objective pollster, the actual figure would probably be closer to 20%, maybe as high as 35%. How, then, did the pollster in this case, get to the 73% stratosphere?

Easy! Through adapting con artists' tactics, the run up, or lead-in, questions in this poll scam paved the way.

These preliminary questions, asked of restaurant operators, were (something like): Do you feel salsa is a worthy addition to your customer's choice of offerings? (Key word, "choice," connotes big-heartedness, customer satisfaction, willingness to serve, to please. The "yes" response to this question would be substantial.)

Next question, please: Do you feel that having an ample supply readily available is important? (Key words here are "readily" and "important.") To the restaurateur-respondent, reaction is pre-ordained. " To himself he would say, "Of course, I just said it was good customer relations, yes, yes, a thousand times yes."

Now that the recipient has been pre-conditioned to say "yes," and the setup is complete, comes the big question, "Do you offer salsa as a standing table-top offering? With the way the restaurateur-respondent has been "set up," this will bring out puffery, exaggeration, hyperbole, and outright lies. It will jump the percentage of those saying yes way up, to the pollster's desired level of positive response. Viola, the 73% figure.

If you are ever polled, while you're wondering if this train of thought has a caboose, you might also be thinking: it's better to be thought of as a fool than to open my mouth wrong and remove all doubt. If you feel on the defensive, bingo.

That's exactly where the word-games-playing con artist pollster wants you.. Does the name, Pavlov, ring a bell? Bingo again. The pollster is trying to make you feel like Pavlov's dog, obedient, compliant, follow his leads, and, above all else, be polite and agreeable, so that you will give him the answers he wants.

It's not only the lead-in questions which are the enabler--to jack the percentage of the main-thrust answers for which the pollster is fishing. Often it's the choice of questions themselves.

Example from another poll scam:

If the pollster asks, "Do you believe in capitalism?" the yes answer would probably come to somewhere around 50%. (The term, "capitalism," has a negative connotation to many, bringing forth thoughts of greed, money barons, the exploitative rich, albeit it is still the generally accepted American economic system. That's why the split in opinion.) Yet, if the pollster con artist were to ask the exact same question, in different words, "Do you believe in the American free enterprise system?" (key words here are "free," and "enterprise," which does not carry capitalism's baggage), this alone would jerk upwards the positive response to at least 90%.

Go figure!

So, remember, when that friendly pollster next phones, you must ask yourself, "Does he actually seek informative data? Or, is he trying to manipulate me--to promote his own hidden agenda?"

If you decide his purpose is the latter, you might never again believe poll results you see, read, or hear.


Anonymous said...

Very insightful Jack. Honestly it wouldn't have occurred to me that a pollster would use skewed data to further their agendas. Like everyone else we "assume".

As for my "usual dark, accented sorties into psychological crevices" :-) (Love that description by the way) I'm working on it. The season is attempting to overcome any free time I may have in being creative.

But having said that, Jack, I do wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season as well.
Take care.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with your post. I don't remember the exact situation but I was polled on the phone one day during a "political" season and the way the questions were worded left me no choice but to say yes. I felt immediately that they wanted a certain response and not the truth. So, being the person I am...I said NO to all of the questions anyway!

Anonymous said...

What can I say that hasn't already been said......I found it impossible to put down your first book, "Six hours past Thursday" from the first page to the exciting conclusion. My book club can't wait until your next masterpiece. Please keep them comming.
Ken G

Jack Payne said...

Yes, J.D., too many people assume too many assumpions. That's why you gotta keep coming back, so I can keep you "enlightened,"--protect you from yourself. (The simple method to my madness.)

You picked up perfectly on the gist of this whole piece, Patricia.

What a nice Christmas gift, Ken G (at least you partially came out from under the cloak of "Anonymous," so people wouldn't instantly think you were an in-law, relative, or some other "plant."). Your words made my day.

Gene Kranik said...

I always had the creepy feeling that pollsters were pushing a hidden agenda. Thanks for pointing out how they do it.

Bern said...

With the political season coming up I guess we won't know what to believe.

McAlee said...

The methodology of polling has changed so much over the years it's hard to stay up with where they are going next. Now deceiving, leading, and trap questions are common. So, what good are the results, when they are so misleading?

Martin Saenz said...

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you Jack. Nice post. I've never put that much thought into these pollsters, but it makes sense. It's a shame, we have to always question tools that are supposed to be objective.


Medilogy said...

Wow, it is so true. The wording of the words tricks us into just hitting them with an automated response. In a way it is a kind of social engineering, they are using us to get the results they want. Very nice article, will look into this for sure.

Visor said...

Honestly, no one has ever taken my opinion on a country like India, polls through phones are extremely rare......but you can quizzed or you can say 'spammed' over the phone.

Good post!

Jack Payne said...

Whole purpose of the article was to bring this to light, Gene. Hope I succeeded.

You are, oh, so right about the season, Bern. With the political Silly Season about to descend upon us, we will all be hard pressed to determine fact from fiction in the polls. Traditionally, any polls more than a month out are not to be believed at all. From a week to a month before the election they will get more accurate. Then, the final week before the election they will become very accurate--to within a percentage point or two of actual results. Reason for this is that the pollsters cannot afford to mislead when final results are tabulated (the votes) and measured against their predictions. The value and pricing of their services to their customers depends upon accurate results. Therefore, very OBJECTIVE polling takes place at the last minute. In sum, you con only trust the poll results coming up this Silly Season the last few days before the election.

Martin and Medilogy, you two have picked up, perfectly, on the points I was trying to make.

Never fear, Visor, it's only a matter of time before phone polling, and all its sleazy practices, get to India.