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  SURVEY SAYS...
August 9, 2002
by Bill Hogan
 
 

Opinion polls have their place in society – especially in an interactive medium like the internet. Sports sites are loaded with daily and weekly polls. Sometimes, I admit, I'll even participate.

But most times, the 'question of the day' is too ridiculous for me to waste my time clicking on a response. I think, after years of asking sports related 'poll questions', the well has finally run dry.

 
 

Certainly a good rule of thumb to follow while concocting a poll question is to make sure there is no quantifiable answer.

"What do you think is the sum total of two and two?" is a silly poll question (made even more ridiculous when 'four' doesn't appear as one of the possible responses).

This past week, an internet sports site asked the poll question "Which of these players should be considered the greatest home run hitter in MLB history?" With the four possible responses being Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays or Babe Ruth.

The question is absurd. The answer – the only answer – is obvious, quantifiable and irrefutable. The greatest home run hitter in MLB history is the guy with the most home runs. (For those of you who are new to our planet, that would be Hank Aaron with 755).

Poll responses should be debatable; the answer to this question is not open for discussion.

With Barry Bonds on the verge of hitting the 600 home run mark, I'm sure the writer thought it was timely and relevant. It's not. Bond's will need to stay healthy and productive for at least three more seasons to catch Aaron. If he does, then he'll be the "greatest home run hitter in MLB history" – but it still doesn't make a good poll question.

Somebody needs to set down some ground rules for these pollsters. By a show of hands, how many of you think that somebody should be me? Very good, I accept.

Let's start by reviewing rule number one. No poll question should be asked if there is a single correct answer especially if that answer can be found in a sports almanac.

Rule number two addresses another poll peeve I have. Always give the person participating in the poll at least one choice that will appeal to him or her. For example:

What was your reaction to the news that Tonya Harding will have to undergo alcohol rehabilitation in order to avoid going to prison?
A) Shock
B) Disappointment
C) Sadness
D) Who gives a hoot about a washed-up, has-been figure skater and why are you wasting my time with this question.

Here's another (because the lack of logical answers really irks me and I want them to get it right):

What was your reaction to the news that John Rocker called a gay couple 'fruitcakes' at a Dallas eatery last week?
A) Shock
B) Disappointment
C) Sadness
D) Who gives a hoot about a washed-up, has-been relief pitcher and why are you wasting my time with this question.

And rule number three: it's shameful to list only those response choices that will enable you to manipulate a favorable outcome (also known as the Bill Clinton Polling Technique).

In other words, this is a no-no:

What did you think of this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?
A) Couldn't put it down
B) Put it under my pillow
C) Had it bound in leather
D) Had it bound in leather and put it under my pillow

And though the following satisfies rule number two, it is still shameful manipulation of the polling process:

Some 'experts' say that Bud Selig should step down as the commissioner of baseball if there is a work stoppage. What do you think he should do?
A) step off a building
B) step in front of a bus
C) step behind a kicking mule
D) step down Hogan's Alley for a little man to man

(You see, poll results, like accounting ledgers, can be very easy to manipulate.)

This last rule is specifically aimed toward the internet pollsters: Don't launch a thousand pop-up ads in my browser window every time I answer one of your ridiculous poll questions!

Come to think of it, maybe these sports sites should eliminate their silly little polls altogether. It's just a big waste of time and I doubt anyone really cares about my opinion.

By the way, don't forget to rate this week's Hogan's Alley using the form at the top of this page. Thanks.


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