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Are surveys the last great Potemkin village of media relations?

Fireworks_crimeaBy Francis Moran

Grigory Potemkin was a Russian nobleman who, in an effort to impress his benefactor, empress and lover, is supposed to have erected facades of villages throughout Crimea when Catherine the Great came on an excursion through the southern regions of her empire in 1787. The purpose was to suggest that there was something far richer and more substantial behind the facades, which is what people mean when they say something is a Potemkin Village.

Now, most scholars agree that Potemkin’s fraud on his lover was probably not anywhere near as extensive as was once commonly held. I wish I could say the same for public opinion surveys, that great Potemkin Village of media relations that persists into today.

You’ve read, heard or watched enough of these to know what I’m talking about. Indeed, it’s a rare edition of any major daily newspaper or newscast that doesn’t feature at least one story built around a survey commissioned by some corporation or association. The media gloms onto the survey’s easy numbers as well as onto the illusion of accuracy and authority associated with the supposed scientific methodology of public opinion surveying and, in the process, readily serves up the sponsoring organization’s agenda or point of view in a way that no self-respecting journalist would ever agree to do if the opinion was presented in any other fashion.

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