A news story reports that Americans are less likely to answer their telephones today than they were, say, 20 years ago, and less likely, as well, to agree to participate in opinion polls.
The report attributed this, in part, to two things. One is the caller-identification device that allows a telephone owner to know which incoming calls to take and which to avoid like you would a door-to-door snake-oil salesman peddling religion on the side.
The second factor is something that the reporter called “interviewer fatigue,” by which he apparently meant that the natives have grown weary of interviewers and answering their questions at all hours of the day and night.
As one who has few of technology’ s bells and whistles such as caller ID, I get my share of unscreened calls from pollsters. Like Pavlov’ s dawg, I am conditioned to react to the ringing of bells and other such stimuli, so when a telephone signals its demand for my undivided attention and I have no place to hide I often get suckered into these things.
Thus, I found myself earlier this week agreeing to participate in a 15-minute suppertime survey concerning the current presidential election campaign from hell — the obscenely expensive marathon that began years ago and won’ t wind down for another three months, or until one of the two major candidates goes bankrupt. Whichever comes first.
My first inkling that this might be an adventure came when the interviewer kept referring to presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain as “John McLain.” Early on, I attempted to discreetly correct her. “I’ m pretty sure the man’ s name is McCain,” I said a couple of times, before giving it up as a hopeless cause. Already, interviewer fatigue was upon us.
The poll included a series of statements that were too long by half, masquerading as questions about positions taken by “McLain” and his opponent, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. As with many polls, the only permissible “answers” were of the agree or disagree variety, with gradations. (“Do you agree, disagree? Somewhat? A whole lot? More than anything you’ ve ever agreed, disagreed with in your entire sorry life?”)
Three times during the interview the pollster listed every presidential hopeful, including the fringe candidates, who will be on the November ballot and asked for whom I would vote should the election be held today. I began to sense that I had not answered the question correctly, and that the lady might persist until I got it right.
Suddenly, from out of left field came a question seeking my opinion of Angus King. What that was all about, I have no clue. Is the former independent Maine governor being considered by someone for a cushy job in the next administration? Might he be considering running for office again? What?
I was asked — on a scale of one to 10 — whether I thought it was high time that we here in the outback get the proper high-speed Internet service that we so richly deserve, and since I had spent most of that day trying to get my pre-Columbian dial-up Internet service back online I gave the proposition a perfect 10. Let the record show, however, that I do not intend to hold my breath until the politicians deliver on that one.
Perhaps like many people who participate in an occasional public opinion poll, I find that it is usually not too difficult to determine just which way that the anonymous outfit paying for the poll wishes the wind to blow.
I thought I had caught the drift of this one pretty much from the start, based on the tone of questions that seemed to be leading respondents down a particular path. But later on, the wind seemed to be blowing from the opposition direction, so I suppose the survey was about as even-handed as these things get. In the polling game, it’ s all in how the questions are phrased.
That, and — if you happen to be the subject of the poll — whether the pollsters can remember your name for the duration of the interview, as this fellow “McLain” would likely somewhat agree.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.