Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It’s all in how you ask the question

Anybody who has flipped on the tube to some courtroom drama has heard the phrase: “Objection! Leading the witness.”

The point of the objection is, you can’t ask a question that provokes the answer you’re looking for. Too bad that rule doesn’t apply to surveys and polls.

A great example of a survey loaded with leading questions was one recently released by a group pushing for increasing the size and weights of heavy trucks on the National Highway System. Supposedly, the poll reveals that people are overwhelmingly in agreement that we need larger and heavier trucks on the highways.

Being the skeptic I am, I immediately requested a copy of the poll and the questions asked. And, honestly, I am not surprised by what I saw.

The pollsters surveyed 1,000 people. Presumably, these people were “Average Joes” not familiar with the dynamics of truck weights, highway fatigue, stopping distances and such.

They were asked questions like this:

Considering the state of our economy, if it could be demonstrated that a reasonable increase in the truck weight limit could contribute to safer roads, greater fuel economy and more productive highway transportation by enabling companies to consolidate loads and deliver products with fewer trucks, would you favor or oppose higher weight limits for properly outfitted tractor-trailers?

That is one big “if” in that question.

The survey questions leaned on causes like cleaning up the environment, reducing congestion, improving highway safety. And the way they were worded, if you opposed adding weight or increasing the size of trucks and trailers you were against – the environment, highway safety, etc.

Anyone with any real knowledge of the trucking industry knows that increasing the size and weight of trucks on the road will cause more problems than it solves.

Trotting out opinion surveys based on leading questions asked of people ill-equipped with the knowledge to know what they are really saying is just another smokescreen.

Truckers know that universally increasing the size and weight of all trucks using the National Highway System is a bad idea. Land Line has an in-depth piece on this very subject in its July issue.

Hopefully lawmakers will continue to listen to the truckers who know what they’re talking about instead of giving even a second thought to a survey of 1,000 people who had five minutes to kill answering a few leading questions.