Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Can you know what you want when you know nothing?

Specifically, about politics. In the first chapter of Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics, Scott Althaus raises this dilemma:
Sampling problems and nonresponse error are well-known pitfalls to survey researchers, and the questions that are used in surveys may fail to capture the public's real concerns. While these problems are worthy of serious attention, there is an even greater problem about which few seem aware or concerned: the public's low level and uneven social distribution of political knowledge diminish the quality of political representation provided by opinion surveys... This problem is so pervasive as to call into question whether opinion surveys can tell us reliably what the people really want. 
In other words, if a tree falls in the forest but no one nearby can tell a tree from a bush or weed or flower, should we put any stock in their opinion about whether it makes a sound?

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