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The Tentacle


June 20, 2012

Giving Surveyors The Business

Norman M. Covert

Curiosity always manages to get the best of me. The phone rang last week and I agreed to answer questions in a survey that would only take 10 minutes. It was a curious survey about personalities and issues in Frederick County, local, state and national governments.

 

The survey actually took about 20 minutes because I kept editorializing on the way questions were formulated. Ultimately, I think the questions came on behalf of the local Democrats. It is just a feeling for the mix of questions and the either “mostly agree” or “disagree” responses allowed.

 

Republicans have shown a flair for front-loaded surveys, too, with similar questions akin to the old: “Do you still beat your wife!” However, I sensed no GOP undercurrent.

 

Right off the bat I rejected the notion of voting for Barack Obama or Congressman Roscoe Bartlett’s Sixth District challenger, whose name is not important here.

 

I had a negative political opinion of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Ron Young (Frederick), Kai Hagen (how did he get in there?), David Gray, Gary Brennan and the Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA), Democrats in general and Friends of Frederick County – the usual suspects.

 

Sorry, I didn’t get the chance to give a negative for another ultra liberal, Ellis Burriss. His name wasn’t on the list, neither were good guys like Sen. David Brinkley (Frederick/Carroll) or our crop of GOP delegates.

 

In a moment of confusion due to construction of the survey question, I chose to give a thumbs-up for Del. Galen Clagett. His voting record is not always to my liking, but he negotiates the halls of Annapolis mostly on our behalf. I would have liked a one-to-five scale.

 

I liked a lot about Frederick County and the Board of County Commissioners including President Blaine Young, Paul Smith, and Billy Shreve (they forgot Kirby Delauter).

 

I disliked the high tax rates; admitted to voting a complete ballot with issues for other counties; would vote to abolish the law giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition; and would vote to throw out the same-sex marriage law.

 

The survey didn’t mention guns, which is a topic Democrats are avoiding once again. I had hoped to hear a question about the concealed carry restrictions being struck down by the federal court. Alas, it was conspicuous by its absence.

 

Also, I liked plans to construct the waste-to-energy plant, the fiscal policies for the most part, and overturning the oppressive rezoning enacted by the previous Board of County Commissioners.

 

The survey spent some time on the charter issue. I had a favorable opinion of the first-class team trying to put together a charter which the people of Frederick County might embrace to change to this new form of government.

 

I suppressed a grin when asked, yes or no, if I believed members of the panel are on it to give themselves the opportunity to get the top job? I rejected that notion. I liked the idea of district-elected county council members, and – for the first time – was given the choice of agree or disagree, or strongly agree or disagree.

 

In deference to the panel’s great work, I am yet to be convinced that a county executive is the way to go. My experience with city and county managers has been that they eventually become consumed by their own autonomy and power.

 

Washington County is in turmoil now over a botched effort to cut the county budget. The county manager was caught off guard when the Health Department called his bluff and sent out termination notices for school nurses. Oops!

 

One irate citizen attended a raucous hearing about the subject and pointed to the manager saying, “I’m sorry I can’t vote you out of office!”

 

That’s my big problem with charter government.

 

I don’t put much stock in opinion surveys, except perhaps Rasmussen Reports, which consistently gets it right without political influence. I have no confidence in surveys sponsored by the Gallup Poll, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, even Fox News and so many others in academia, business and politics.

 

Politics seems the underlying purpose and eventually these people get caught in their own trap.

 

Credibility lies in offering data gathered from balanced demographics, including party affiliation, gender, intention to vote, age and income status. I learned about this at the University of South Carolina in 1980. I paid $20 at its Bookstore for a text entitled, “Business Research Methods,” by Vernon T. Clover and Howard Balsey, who I suppose are outstanding in their field.

 

The text is full of tables of one sort or another, which manage to confuse me about such issues as T-tests, two-tailed tests and other academic and mathematical bother. It proves that liars figure and figures can lie. I learned the ins and outs of rigging a survey to suit your needed outcome. It happens all the time.

 

My participation in the survey became a lark, but I supposed I am now being branded a far-right, homophobic, racist, who probably also likes George W. Bush. What do you think? On a one-to-five scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

 

It shouldn’t be long before we read the results of the survey in the Daily Blather and Gazette. They love this kind of stuff. It fills the ideological quota.

 



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