Saturday, I received a “2009 Congressional Survey” from the office of Rep. Lynn Jenkins, and while the survey itself is perhaps one of the most worthless documents in American history, I am pleased to report that in a pinch it will act as a wonderful makeshift umbrella.
Individuals craftier than myself might also be able to turn Jenkins’ survey into a highly sophisticated paper airplane or a decorative Halloween mask for the kids. This winter, when the cold Kansas winds blow over barren fields and into our homes, one might also be inclined to use this survey to stoke his or her fire into a roaring inferno.
There are, in fact, many uses for the “2009 Congressional Survey” issued by Rep. Jenkins, but none of them involve the collection of accurate public opinion data from the Kansas electorate.
Indeed, the survey in question is so ridiculously misleading and methodologically flawed, Jenkins might as well break out a Ouija board and a bottle of tequila to divine Kansans’ opinions on key policy issues.
Anything would be better than this survey, which suffers mostly due to its inability to screen out — or “control for” — individuals who might not understand or who might have only a limited knowledge of the questions they are being asked.
For example, if I were to ask respondents a specific public policy question as Jenkins does in her own survey with the environmental “cap-and-trade” system question, I would first want to know how familiar my respondents were with the policy. If my respondents were not familiar with the policy — if, in fact, they knew absolutely nothing about the policy — then how could they have possibly formed an opinion on it?
The answer is they couldn’t have, and because Jenkins’ survey does not employ any “knowledge questions” which separate the wheat from the chaff — the answers of those who know exactly what they’re talking about from those who don’t — it is inevitable that an unknown number of respondents to the “2009 Congressional Survey” will be making nothing more than a series of uniformed, or partially informed, guesses. These guesses will be reported as part of a statistic in various local media — that is, erroneously reported as fact.
Even more troubling, Rep. Jenkins’ survey does not provide respondents with the option of answering “No Opinion,” “No Answer,” or “Don’t Know” to any given question. This makes it particularly difficult for a respondent to answer a question honestly if he or she does not hold an opinion on, objects to, or doesn’t know enough about a question.
By not providing such options, each respondent to Jenkins’ survey is forced to select from a narrow list of predetermined answers, or are occasionally asked to write-in “Other” answers to a policy question he or she might never have heard of.
Without a doubt, these are egregious flaws. Coupled with a number of leading questions including, “Do you support the President’s plan of cutting military spending for the purpose of deficit reduction even if these cuts would hurt our ability to fight terrorism and protect the American people?” with only “Yes” or “No” answers, and evocative language like “Death Tax,” they render the results of Jenkins’ “2009 Congressional Survey” skewed at best, and at worst, grossly inaccurate.
As such, any of this survey’s findings will not be representative of Kansans’ views — whether they come from a conservative or liberal, farmer or firefighter, Republican or Democrat. This survey is a waste of time and energy on the part of Rep. Jenkins and her political colleagues, as well as a waste of an unknown amount of taxpayer dollars.
On the upside, many formerly coaster-less Kansas will now have somewhere to place their soft drinks without making a complete mess.
Chance York is a graduate student in mass communications. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.