Public Opinion

Do we have a civic duty to pick up those dinnertime robocalls?

May 15 '12

About an hour ago, we received the following email from the communications director of University of California Television:

Thought you might be interested in this short video commentary featuring UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy Dean Henry E. Brady on why it’s so important for average citizens to participate in political polls. The video premiered today on UCTV Prime, the YouTube original channel from University of California. Hope you’ll share the timely piece with your readers.

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I’ve known Henry forever and have a great respect for him and his work. Also I agree with the general message that political participation is important; regular readers of this and other blogs will know that I’ve spent a lot of time arguing against various voting-is-for-suckers-it’s-a-waste-of-your-time arguments.

But, when it comes to political polls, I’m bothered by the asymmetry by which pollsters make money from interviews, while survey respondents often participate for free.

And then, just a few minutes ago, the phone rang. I picked it up, there was a pause, and then a recorded voice: “This is Sara from Political—“

I don’t know what was going to come next. I hung up. If this particular poll is so important, perhaps they could get a real person to call me next time. It’s much more satisfying to hang up on a real person. Or they might try compensating me for my time.

P.S. I’m not saying that Henry Brady is talking about polls where a robot calls you at dinnertime with the goal of making some free money for someone. My point is that it won’t be clear to the survey respondent what sort of pollster is calling. Polling’s cheap, anyone can do it . . . so everyone does.