Exercising at Olive Park the other day, listening to rock and roll on my Walkman, I heard a line from Rush – “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” – and that reminded me of an issue in survey research that’s relevant for understanding the poll results we’re hearing everyday; namely, how to understand respondents who say they’re “undecided”. Rush understands! To say you’re undecided is, nevertheless, to decide; you’re choosing among the possible responses that could be made. Rush is right!
Furthermore, those who say they’re undecided are not necessarily undecided; they just may not want to state their decision–and there are many reasons why this is so. For instance, respondents who have made up their minds might say they’re undecided to create the impression that they’re thoughtful, still gathering information. Or they might not want to indicate their decision at this time, or to this TV interviewer. The issue of the undecided is only one of the many factors that contribute to the unreliability of survey research. For a complete statement of the limits of survey research, see my book, The Problem with Survey Research.