Survey Questions With The Answers Built In

May 13, 2013 Current Commentary Comments Off
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Regular readers know that I freely share my opinions on all sorts of issues.

You might think that this makes me an ideal candidate for an opinion survey from the Republican Party, of which I am a registered member. And perhaps I would be, if the survey was actually intended to get my opinion.

But, like most surveys of this sort, it isn’t.

The mail recently brought my own personally registered copy of the 2013 Republican Platform Survey from the Republican National Committee. The accompanying cover letter from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus stressed that my party urgently needs my response. (Yes, it brought to mind the old touch-typing exercise that began, “Now is the time for all good men…”).

“Our Party’s leaders need feedback from you and other grassroots supporters to help reassure them that when they stand against Obama’s drive to raise taxes, expand government spending and implement radical left-wing policies – You are still with us,” the letter exhorted.

The problem is that I am not with them – at least not entirely, and not in the ways they want me to tell them I am. While I am not a member of President Obama’s fan club, my view as to why he won re-election is slightly more nuanced than the offered choices, “People voted for Obama’s liberal agenda” and “Obama won based on the most negative campaign in history.”

Not every question on the survey is that extreme in its wording, but it is clear throughout what the “right” Republican answer to each question is. A question that frames Obama’s stance on the Defense of Marriage Act as “unprecedented” or that (misleadingly) evokes Planned Parenthood without naming it by asking about “non-profit clinics whose primary function is conducting abortions” is a question that already thinks it knows your answer.

That is not how an opinion survey works if you genuinely want to measure opinions.

I have written about my view that the Republican Party needs its own agenda, not simply the goal of blocking Democrats’ every move. Obama and his allies have many goals with which I disagree, but mainstream Democrats are at least clear and direct about their vision for the country.

GOP leaders and lawmakers are also out of step with nationally evolving views on gay rights, immigration and abortion. My opinion, which they ostensibly want, is that there should be room in the party for candidates with a variety of views on social issues. I am surely not the only Republican voter who believes we ought to welcome hard-working immigrants at all levels of skill and education, and to change the way we deal with those undocumented immigrants already in our country. The survey seems mostly concerned with whether I favor or oppose “blanket amnesty.”

Later, only two questions apart from one another, the survey asks whether the GOP should “remain the pro-life party” and whether I believe the party makes an effort to address issues of concern to women. After the thrashings Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin received in November, perhaps the party should be thinking harder about the connection between the two questions.

This sort of outreach does not lend credibility to the claim that the GOP has conducted a “full autopsy” of the 2012 election, as Priebus himself termed it last fall. Or if it has, it’s hard to see the ways in which the findings have affected the party’s views.

Priebus’ cover letter suggested that dissent within the party is a trumped-up story. “Many in the media are proclaiming that folks like you want the Republican Party to abandon our platform of conservative principles and ideas,” the letter states in all capital letters, “but I don’t believe it.” The RNC asked me to confirm what it wanted to hear, not to tell it where I think the Republican Party can improve.

Inevitably, the survey closed with an outstretched palm by asking whether I would send a cash donation. The survey suggested a variety of amounts I could include with my completed questionnaire, but none of the choices were the actual sum I will send, which is zero. I am pleased to support individual candidates whose campaigns I back, to a greater or even sometimes a lesser degree. But until the RNC starts showing signs on a national level that it is ready to welcome a broader range of social views, as it must in order to be a truly national party, I’m not going to give it a nickel.

The GOP does not know me nearly as well as it thinks it does.


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