People Don’t Lie on Surveys
For some reason I’m always a little surprised that people tell the truth on surveys. I like to think of my “healthy skepticism” as a professional asset, because it forces us to check and double check, corroborate and triangulate. Before we commit to the findings of a research effort, we need to feel 100% sure we’re right and that our findings are based on solid data.
So I’m always encouraged with yet more evidence that people do tell the truth on surveys. Studies continue to show that surveys and polling are effective because (1) you need to ask only a small representative sample of people what they think to make statistical conclusions about the whole, and (2) the vast majority of people will tell you the truth about what they think. It would seem that people are less concerned about privacy and keeping their opinions to themselves than they are about being heard and making a difference.
The latest data demonstrating this was published in an industry magazine from the Marketing Research Association. If a person volunteers, or is asked, to take a survey multiple times, what happens? The vast majority will give you the same answers each time they take the survey, even on questions that ask for subjective ratings on 10 point scales. If a person were lying or just racing through a survey with random answers to collect incentives, this would not happen. It turns out that most people give thoughtful, truthful answers each time.
Of course you do not want the same person included in your survey more than once, and a good research vendor will do the careful work of ensuring it does not happen. But when it does happen, it is fascinating that our efforts to get to the truth are so resilient. The study was done by Paul Johnson, a senior analyst at Western Wats. If you would like a copy of the study, let me know and I will send you a copy (unfortunately the MRA keeps this content under lock and key, so I cannot include a web link here).
A corollary of this research will be a topic for another day, but here’s the gist:
If you want to know the truth about your product or your customers or your competition, just ask, because most people will tell you.
Versta Research can help you with what to ask, how to ask, whom to ask, and how many to ask, and chances are you will be delighted with how much insight you can gain through a systematic and rigorous effort of asking.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.