What are the Republicans Thinking?

For reasons completely beyond me, I’m on the Republican National Committee’s junk mail list. This morning, I received the strangely bad survey they’ve been taking to try to figue out what they’re doing wrong and what they can do to fix it.

Partisan feelings aside (for the moment), this isn’t a horrible idea; there’s nothing wrong with trying to survey your membership, or failing that, survey people you’ve misidentified as your membership (my hunch is that this dates back to my signing up for McCain’s email list back in 2004 when we all thought he was going to switch parties, but who knows). The problem, of course, is simply that the execution is possibly among the worst I’ve seen. You’d think they’d have asked a Republican pollster to come up with a professionally-written instrument, but thankfully, they didn’t: let’s make fun of it.


Random capitalization aside (more on that shortly), what the heck is up with the “Need to Lead in Congress” choice? If they’re trying to list perceived weaknesses, wouldn’t it need to be constructed differently, like “failure to lead in Congress,” or “lack of leadership in Congress,” or other words to that effect? “Standing up for Principles” isn’t much better — as worded, it’s impossible to tell if the poll is suggesting that Republicans are weak as a party because they stand up for their principles (which aren’t popular enough to help them win elextions) or if they’re saying Republicans are weak as a party because they don’t stand up for their principles enough. Either interepetation could make sense, but the pollster apparently wants us to figure it out for ourselves.

Also, take a look at the preceeding question, which asked what the party’s biggest strengths were:


I’m certain this would be an unpopular view at GOP Headquarters, but couldn’t the case be made that every single one of those items should also be in the weakness box? Isn’t it possible there are some actual Republicans who believe the party’s focus on “values” issues like gay marriage turned off moderate voters who might have been receptive to a message focused solely on fiscal responsibility?


I don’t even know where to begin with this mess, so let’s just leave it here as an example of what a biased poll question looks like.


Why are Those Things Capitalized In That Way?


Two separate problems here, and they’re both fairly common. First, obviously, the “scare quotes,” the use of “wasteful” to modify “government spending,” and the hilarious “Pelosi-Reid Democrats” label — is that supposed to be like “Reagan Democrats” or something? Who identifies with a Speaker of the House/Senate Majority Leader enough that it works as a label? Whatever. The other problem here is very common, and I see it all the time, and I think most people miss it: they’re setting up a question where the respondent has to choose a positive answer choice — “yes,” in this example — if they want to vote for a negative answer choice, “oppose.” This creates just enough of a moment of confusion in the respondent’s mind that it should be avoided, especially because there’s nearly ever a need for it. “Should Republicans in Congress support or oppose the new blah blah blah,” with “support” and “oppose” as the two answer choices — that’s much simpler and avoids that dangerous construction entirely.


This just amuses me — shouldn’t it be “instead of you and your doctor and the non-doctors who make the decisions at your insurance company?”


This was my favorite part, though. (It’s actually the first item in the survey, but I saved it for last.) The email address field was pre filled-in, by the way, and my email address was also in the survey’s URL. That’s one way to make sure no one fills in the “other” blanks with anything you don’t want to hear, I guess.

Pathetic, really.



Filed under bad user experiences, election polling, Market Research, what

11 responses to “What are the Republicans Thinking?

  1. Hilarious and frightening at the same time.

  2. I got this survey as well – and past republican paper surveys (they were really sent to my parents but they thought I might enjoy responding). I think each one gets worse. If they’re going to bias their data and ask stupid questions, why don’t they just make up numbers and claim that’s how all republicans feel?

  3. It’s unreal. I think it’s partially what I’ve complained about before — the desktop publishing effect, where easy-to-use tools make everyone think they can save money by building their own surveys, and partially that people just don’t understand that when they ask a biased question of a population they assume all hold the same basic beliefs, it’s still a biased question.

    It’s amazing they ever win elections at all, with strategies based on the results of such badly flawed research.

  4. Tom

    D’you think it’s possible that this is just a survey-based push poll? i.e. they’re sending it to you BECAUSE you’re a marginal or potential Republican voter and the absurd biased questions are meant to remind you of their current rack of talking points?

    If it’s a real survey, of course… what on earth could they possibly get out of it?

  5. I don’t know. There were a lot of questions in there, and some of them did seem like honest questions that any partisan pollster would want to ask; of course, you could make an argument that they included those questions just to make it look like it wasn’t a push poll. Still, with questions like that first one I showed, where “Need to Lead in Congress” is listed as a potential weakness, I think they’re just not that smart. Just more flailing from one of America’s most damaged brands.

  6. I’ll add one more blunder to the long list already identified in the post and comments….

    Why are they surveying the RNC mailing list? It’s like asking your mom if you’re cool.

    If they really want to fix their party shouldn’t they be talking to the people who don’t vote for them?


  7. bgfred

    Survey? This is a “list test” or reactivition effort and was posed in the form of a survey in order to foster involvement by playing on the latent urge to “sound off” about the direction of the party.

    Responding makes you “active” again, not doing so might get you purged or at least archived for another day. As you noted, you don’t know how they had your email address and surmised that it was from a long time ago.

  8. Now that’s an interesting thought that hadn’t occurred to me. I’ve been getting some sort of semi-regular email update from Michael Steele; we’ll see if those keep coming (I didn’t submit the survey).

  9. My favorite question was the one about “passing more socialism.” Was it asking if you agree with the the poll’s finding of 25% or if you want to pass more socialism? I like that phrase: “pass more socialism.” One of my current favorite truisms is that every time you sit on the toilet you’re a socialist. Gives the notion of “passing more socialism” a somewhat scatological bent, I think.

  10. Mel

    “pass more socialism” — like “My peas are bland, please pass the socialism?”

    All else aside, the writing borders on incoherent.

  11. Trulee Pist

    I doubt these data are ever compiled.

    Direct mailers know the more “involved” you get a respondent, the more likely the respondent is to give you what you want–your name and phone number, a donation, etc.

    In direct mail come-ons, the “involvement” is telling you to pull off the gold star sticker from the letter and place it on the return postcard to qualify for an extra gift. If you put the star on the return postcard, odds are you’ll send that postcard in.

    These “survey questions” are just another form of “gold star sticker.” Once you’ve filled in your responses, odds are you’ll go back to the beginning and hand over all the information they asked from you on Page One, and hit “Reply.”

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