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The leading association
of public opinion and
survey research professionals
American Association for Public Opinion Research

Confronting Those Who Give Surveys a Bad Name

by Tim Johnson, President
While survey and public opinion research received its fair share of Total Survey Error-based scientific critiques during our recent New Orleans Conference, we’re all painfully aware that our work is also sometimes targeted for unfair criticisms. AAPOR is beginning to take steps to confront some of these issues through the work of two new Ad Hoc Committees that are in the process of being organized.

One of these committees will deal with the decades-old problem of sugging and frugging. Sugging is the selling and marketing of products under the guise of conducting research. Closely related is the practice of frugging, defined as fund-raising under the guise of conducting research. These widespread problems continue to disrupt and seriously undermine public confidence in the practice of legitimate public opinion and survey research. To date, there have been few organized attempts to address this problem.

A second Ad Hoc Committee will follow-up on an unusual aspect of the 2016 Presidential election campaign, which witnessed widespread accusations that public opinion surveys were somehow “rigged” to show favorable support for one candidate over another. Many partisans embraced these accusations, which served to seriously undermine the reputation of public opinion research as scientific and objective. There were no organized efforts to challenge these unfair and incorrect accusations and there is concern that, if not contested, these perceptions will solidify in the minds of many citizens.

The goal of both of these new Ad Hoc Committees will be to first prepare sets of recommendations regarding concrete steps that AAPOR can consider implementing to begin to address each problem. In doing so, the committees will examine various potential strategies, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each, and then make recommendations regarding both short-term and long-term strategies that may be most promising for us to pursue. In collaboration with AAPOR’s Council, it is anticipated that both committees will subsequently help lead in implementing some or all of their recommendations. While it takes time for careful research and consideration, our goal is nonetheless to identify specific actions that we can begin to take in the near future to begin confronting these important issues.

My special thanks to Andy Peytchev, who will Chair the Ad Hoc Committee concerned with Sugging and Frugging, and to Jill Darling, who will Chair the Ad Hoc Committee concerned with Politically-Motivated False Accusations Against Surveys. We will be reporting back to you sometime in the coming months regarding their progress.