Monday, December 23, 2013

Push Polls, Marketing, and Respecting Human Liberty

A couple of months ago, I got a "survey" in the mail from the National Rifle Association.  As a Virginian, they were interested in learning what I had to say, so that my opinions might help them decide…snicker…be reflected in their legislative…snort…I'm sorry.

Can't keep a straight face on that one.  They couldn't have cared less what I thought, because their "survey" wasn't a survey at all.  I used to review social science research proposals in a prior life, and for a survey instrument to have any validity, it needs be written in a way that allows for an objective response.  Meaning, you need to carefully construct the language so it doesn't create a bias in the person  responding.  Otherwise, your results will be skewed, and the data you produce will be unreliable.

That's a problem if you care about gathering information, but the survey I got was not about listening to opinions.  It was about cramming opinions down your throat using manipulative language.  In political parlance, what I got from the NRA was a "push poll," which meant it asked questions like:

1) Do you want fat-cats in Washington to destroy the Constitution and take away your fundamental freedoms so that special interest groups can have their way with the weeping, broken body of Lady Liberty?  (  ) Yes   (  ) No

Um.   Hold on.  Let me think.  This is a toughie.   Maybe…No?

Sure, I have my political opinions.  But I also know when I'm being played.   I found that survey…woefully misdirected to a progressive…remarkably false.  From my progressive predilections, it was easy to cluck knowingly at how effectively this hunk of rotten meat would be consumed by the fearful and the gullible and the true-believers.

Which made it interesting when Friday's mail brought me a "50-State Survey" from the American Civil Liberties Union.  

That ACLU survey began:

"Nationwide, we're seeing a relentless and wide-ranging assault on our fundamental freedoms."

Wait, what?  I think I read that exact same opening sentence in the NRA survey.

It went on, in three sections, entitled, respectively:  1) Defending Freedom in Virginia; 2) Defending Freedom Nationally; and 3) Strategies for Advancing Freedom.

I wish I hadn't sent back the NRA's survey instrument, because Lord have mercy, did that seem familiar.

I got into the questions.

Do I care about the constitutional rights of those who are impacted by discriminatory laws?  Do I care about standing up to extremists who are carrying out an all-out assault on our rights?  Do I care about informing and mobilizing people to strengthen and expand individual liberty in America?  Will you help us confront those seeking to undermine the Constitution and sweep away our fundamental freedoms?

Yikes.  Different hot-buttons, but the same emotionally charged, manipulative language wrapped in a "survey."  And while I agreed with much of what that survey was pushing, I still couldn't help but notice that I was being played.  The ACLU's marketers were using the same push-poll fundraising strategy as the NRA's marketers.

Because the last question, in both surveys, was : "Will you send us money?"

In the context of both the NRA and the ACLU, that bears with it a deep irony that goes well beyond the unfortunate and unnecessary divide between liberals and libertarians.

You cannot claim to serve the cause of liberty if you use manipulative tactics.  Because to serve the liberty of others, you must first respect their integrity as individuals.

Push poll marketing does not show that respect.