Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Are You Better Off?

We love asking people: "How ya doin?"

Of course in the survey world, we're a bit more formal.  NBC/Wall Street Journal asks: "Would you say that you and your family are better off or worse off than you were four years ago?"

When we talk about what people know, we're usually talking political knowledge.  Here we're asking something more down to earth, something they really ought to know.  As an aside, the poll mentioned above shows people are feeling just a wee bit pessimistic, with 34% feeling "better off."  That's down from a high of 63% in 2000.  In September 1992 it was 37%.  Economic times were tough then too, as the first President Bush can testify too.

Okay, but how well do people really answer this question?  I'm gonna nitpick.
  • Does the media influence how we answer this by focusing on certain stories, such as "it's the economy, stupid!"
  • Do presidential candidates, talking about this, increase the odds of us saying we're not doing better?
  • Is the simple asking of the question increasing the chance of us thinking, ya know, maybe I'm not doing so well?
  • Is a forced choice, two answer question the best way to do this?  Do we need to get at this in a more varied format, with breakdowns for economics and other aspects of people's lives.  After all, what if my kid is doing great in school but used to struggle?  How do I answer this question?
I think the question more or less gets at what we want to get at, meaning it's a pretty valid measure, but part of me (that PhDweeb part) wonders if indeed a multivariate approach to the question might turn up some interesting results.  And, perhaps, explain the lower numbers.

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