The Opinion Market: Our Unconscious Choices

The survey summarized below was designed to test the hypothesis that most people put trust in the results of public opinion polls, but they disagree with the proposition that their own convictions depend on the results of sociological research.  

The main task of our survey was to determine, by practical consideration, a balance between the level of people’s trust in the various sociological surveys and the level of conscious assessment of the impact that this research has on the private judgments of people. For this purpose, we chose five statements which summarize the results of various sociological surveys from the large-scale scientific research project which was conducted for over 75 years by Harvard University, to an ordinary survey of local interest and timeliness. Then our pollsters went out on the streets of two Czech cities – Prague and Litomyšl – to conduct their own analysis. The respondents were asked to measure the outcomes of several research projects and to agree or disagree with them.

What was the conclusion of this survey? Eventually, we have arrived at two main conclusions:

1. People tend to trust public opinion polls and take their results at face value.

Virtually every statement that we prepared generated the anticipated result as the respondents made the expected choice. For instance, the statement regarding work satisfaction contained a reference to an existing survey, which showed that only 10% of the country’s population actually enjoys their jobs. Having learned this, as much as 45% of our respondents switched to the side of those unsatisfied with their careers. In the second case, we referred to a survey, conducted by a reputable agency, which supposedly showed that 49% of people prefer lakes, rivers and oceans to other landscapes. Forty-seven percent of our respondents immediately concurred with this point of view. It has to be taken into consideration that the objectiveness of both statements is obviously disputable. As for the first case, there was precisely the same survey, carried out by another social research agency, Randstad Workmonitor, which showed that almost 70% of Czechs are completely satisfied with their jobs. Also, we must note that aquatic landscapes are not very common in the Czech Republic.

The only exception was the statement about an existing collusion between doctors and pharmacists. Almost 43% of respondents agreed that such schemes take place despite the fact that the results of the referenced survey showed quite the opposite. However, 38% of respondents do not believe that machinations take place within medical community, and 19% decided to give it a thought and then offered no definite answer.

It has to be noted that the participants in this survey have in all cases shown a preference for definitive assessments. “Not certain” was the least popular answer. Statements about the conspiracy theory and global elites forced our interlocutors to put on thinking caps more often than any other suggestion. Twenty-eight percent of respondents were unwilling or unready to provide a direct and unambiguous answer.

2. People in general do not realize that their personal judgments are under the influence of public opinion.

An enviable majority of 59% of respondents strongly disagreed with the suggestion that the results of surveys can affect their own views regarding any given question.

As an overall conclusion from the data gleaned from our surveys, we would like to make the following point: in the modern world of technology and open, virtually unlimited access to information, every person has his “own opinion” regarding a huge range of questions. Some of these “opinions” grow out of our attitudes towards life, reflecting ideals of conduct or a broad framework of convictions. That is why it is of utmost importance to put the pedal of critical thinking to the metal and to process all incoming information diligently and even scrupulously, using a wide range of sources. Since the market of vendible opinions is obviously ready and its doors are opening wider and wider, the risk of getting erroneous information is quite high, if you grab everything blindly and randomly.

Title Photo: Shutterstock

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