Consumer Surveys: Don’t Trust Them

In graduate school I was taught to distrust surveys of consumer behavior.  “Look at what they do, not what they say,” was the lesson.  The Wall Street Journal reinforces that training with an eye-opening article about people lying to poll-takers.  One striking example is the discrepancy between answers to a live person on the telephone compared to entering answers on a computer form:

Went to church last week:     56% on the phone,     25% online
Gambled last month:           21% on the phone,     28% online
Donate to charity regularly:  67% on the phone,     57% online
Brush teeth twice daily:      78% on the phone,     64% online
Exercise regularly:           58% on the phone,     35% online
Drank alcohol last week:      39% on the phone,     53% online

Keep this in mind whenever you see a consumer survey.  Even more importantly, when a newspaper reporter draws a conclusion from interviewing a handful of people, be very, very skeptical.