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Enduring an election poll

April 14th, 2009 · 18 Comments

I assume I must be one of the last people on the continent who will answer the phone when it’s an unknown number, which is why the Harris Decima phone banker with the heavily accented English was so joyful when he got a live body.

As someone who works in media and who lives with someone who works in media, I’m not supposed to be allowed to do polls. But I love finding out what they’re asking and I’ve always been a rule-breaker so what the heck … ask away, I told him. (A small consolation for not having been asked to fill out the long census form.)

Little did I realize that, being I was one of the few people they could get hold of, they had a LOT to ask me. I’m used to relatively short polls, the kind I used to get when I was home during the day 25 years ago. This time, I must have been on the phone for at least 20 minutes.

We covered everything. First, what major stores I had shopped at recently. Then, more specifically, why I hadn’t shopped at Zeller’s. What would make me go there? (Hmm, being on welfare. A gun.) From there, we moved on to politics. Who would I vote for federally today? Who would I vote for provincially? Who’s the best leader? What’s the top issue in the election?  Which is the best party to deal with that issue? Do I think the tough economy means that sustainability should have to take a back seat? Does the tough economy improve the environment? Which is scarier and makes me wet my pants — a bad economy or a dying planet? Which would win at at mixed-martial arts competition: the economy or the environment?

After that, it was on to education and research. I wish I had a faithful rendition of one of their questions. It was so loaded that I could have used it as a sample in the polling class I teach. Something like: The Canadian government has cut $100 million from Canadian universities and colleges for research, saying money should go to blah blah instead. In the U.S., Barack Obama has put $1 billion into research, saying it’s what’s needed to develop the economy of the future. Which statement do you agree with? (Um, I’m a troglodyte and very uncool, so I’ll say A.)

After that, a bunch of impossible questions about how should universities save money, by a) cutting research b) raising tuition c) selling drugs on campus and do I think that everyone deserves a free education because basically you’re a loser if you don’t have a BA these days, so it’s practically mandatory and therefore should be free, or is this a dog-eat-dog world and people should have to pay through the nose for an education.

Tired yet? I sure was. As this point, exhausted from thinking about whether I very much agreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed or very much disagreeed on something or another, I asked how many more questions. Oh, we’re about 60 per cent through, he said.

So we went on to whether I thought Earth Day was worthwhile or had it passed its prime. (What’s Earth Day?) Did I think any the worse of Alberta because they’re now running a huge deficit after years of hauling in the oil money? (No, I always thought it was the most depressing province in Canada, cutting this and that while wallowing in its surpluses and acting those it was a financial genius. Nothing’s changed.) Who did I think would win the NHL playoffs? I have no idea, I kept telling the guy over and over again, while he kept asking me about which team I preferred and other related questions. I don’t even know which teams are in the playoffs.

I think there were a few more topics but by then I was so dazed, I’d stopped taking notes. I realized I’d also gotten to the point where I was giving completely contradictory answers and, at points, saying anything just to move on to the next one.

Something for all of you to think about the next time you see some headline screaming: “Carole James the best choice to lead Canucks to playoffs on Earth Day, say pollsters” It could be what 47 per cent of B.C.ers said, 19 times out of 20. Or it could be that they were in the twilight zone by the time those questions came around.

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  • Denis

    I figure the best way to get rid of those pain in the behind folks is to hang up while you, not they are saying something. Most folks don’t think anyone would hang up on themselves. sure canadians are noted for being polite but there is a limit.

  • While I was in university, I was a poller (pollster?). We stayed on topic, with my longest surveys coming in at 10 minutes, but usually less.

    Because I’ve done the job and know it’s a useful resource, I always say yes to them. But now that I rely only on a cell phone, I never get the calls.

    As a member of the media who then regurgitates the stats, maybe it’s not right to answer, but I throw caution to the wind.

  • gmgw

    Frances, is there anything you can do to block these annoying and distracting “re:place Magazine” posts that, more and more, are cropping up in the responses columns herein? Having now looked at their site (purely out of curiosity), I would venture to say that their “posts” most certainly qualify as spam, and should be dealt with accordingly.

  • Forthingham

    re:place magazine is not spam.

    polls are spam. I never tell the truth. I am walt whitman when I talk to them… i contradict myself in one sentence on one issue .. so what I contain multitudes of opinions

  • Chris

    Phone polls become increasingly irrelevant every year. I don’t know anyone under 30 with a land line, and I’ve never once been polled.

  • Not running for mayor

    That’s okay Chris, I don’t know anyone under 30 that votes so it’s a wash.
    Acutally my statement is false but it’s probably as accurate as yours or at least close. 🙂

  • Chris

    How about I back my statement up with some statistics then.
    It’s American, but I’m sure Canada is similar.

    According to an MRI survey in 2006 (3 years ago!), cell-phone-only households surpassed landline-only households for the first time, and more then 50% of people under the age of 35 don’t have a land line. Even for the older crowd, cell-phone only households are growing and already a significant percentage of the population.

  • LP

    Each time one calls, I ask if my time is being compensated. When they say no, I hang up.

    My thoughts are that if I go to a focus group I get paid, why shouldn’t the pollsters pay for the information they get from us.

  • MB

    Fabula, you are a radical rule-breaker? My image of you has been utterly shattered. Bet you snuck a toke or two behind your high school vent intake too.

    We aways screen our calls. We also close the door — politely, but firmly — on the Single Parents Foodbank and all the others who barely qualify as charities (if at all), JWs, and other unsolicited solicitors. Exceptions are the neighbourhood kids seeking sponsors for school projects.

    I prefer giving a slice of each paycheque to the United Way over handing out money at our door anyway.

    Recently my wife closed the door on a neighbour looking for his lost cat. It was a clear case of mistaken identity. We had to chalk him up as collateral damage.

    Then there are the occassional drunken yobs who leave long, inane phone messages at 4:00 a.m., obviously mistaking our number for a friend’s. As if. Well, I have a fax machine at work that dials up to ten times each time you hit send …..

  • blaffergassted

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    But I still don’t understand WHY Carole James is the best to lead the Canucks on Earth Day!

  • gmgw

    “re:place magazine is not spam.”

    They’re intruding into online discussions to which they do not otherwise contribute solely for the purpose of advertising a product. That makes them spammers, at least in this context, no matter how valid you may think their product is. Sorry.

  • fbula


    I’ve found some interesting things on re:place, actually, like their current map showing the intensity of cycling, walking in different parts of the city. But I probably don’t have to approve their posts, since they’re just links.

  • fbula

    I see that most of you refuse to allow yourselves to be polled. Alas, I belong to that diminishing contingent that is curious about what the pollsters are polling on. The price of my curiousity is having to answer their questions. My complaint, in this case, was that the price was SO high.

  • Chris

    gmgw – the comments from re:place magazine are actually created by Frances blog. It’s a setting in WordPress that automatically adds trackbacks (from people linking to your posts) as comments.

    re:Place has no control over those comments and they are not spam or advertising. The reason WordPress adds those as comments, is because links from another blog are seen as kudos. It’s a compliment if anything.

  • Chris

    P.S. you can differentiate trackback comments by the grey background.

  • gmgw

    Thank you to Chris and Frances for the clarifications. When the re:place “posts” began to appear a couple of weeks(?) ago, I found them distracting, annoying and had no idea where they came from. I still find them distracting, but at least now I know why they’re there.

  • OK.

    I figured Ms. Bula might be a rule breaker.


    Who’d a thunk that she purchases her weaponry from Zellers…..