Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Does your public knowledge survey test how stupid we are?

I'm a fan of The Pollsters, a weekly podcast featuring Margie Omero & Kristen Soltis Anderson. It's particularly helpful in the election cycle, but the show also covers polls and public opinion research in pop culture, news, and more. And they gave me a new way to look at a common communications tool: The public opinion survey that tests the public's knowledge.

In this recent episode, they took a look at Edelman's Trust Barometer, which shared the finding that half of all people in 10 countries can't name a CEO. The survey took a one-two punch approach, asking whether respondents could name a CEO. Then, if they said "yes," they were asked to do so, yielding 60 percent who could not.

The Pollsters' take? Surveying a general population on knowledge and then sharing their failure is a great way to signal that you think they're stupid.

It's also called the "deficit model" of approaching your communicating with the public, the assumption that we are somehow lacking if we don't know what you know. I'm most familiar with it in action in the scientific community, where surveys of public understanding of science test knowledge about basic scientific facts. But expecting the broader public to know what you know isn't necessarily the most strategic communications goal. If the survey you conduct and publicize emphasizes that knowledge deficit, what's the signal you are sending? Does it tell us more about you than about the public? Does it distance you from those who might aid your cause or concern? Does it further your goal?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by andres musta)

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