When we ask people to contribute to our public-radio Freakonomics podcast, our sponsor station WNYC offers some of the standard public-radio gifts: a Freakonomics t-shirt, a coffee mug, copies of our books, etc. I am curious what sort of gifts people really want. The radio station tells us that people love love love tote bags, but as someone who almost never carries a tote bag, I am skeptical. But I am also happy to be proven wrong. So please let us know via the poll below, and also write in answers in the comments. Thanks.
Q. Under what circumstances will a voter actually change his/her mind about whom to vote for? I understand that this rarely happens (this study for example), and that most of the action involves undecided voters deciding whom to vote for.
Also, if political scientist are right that voters rarely change their minds, how can a large swing in the polls ever occur? A classic example that your briefly mention in your book is that of Michael Dukakis, who was ahead of GHW Bush by 10% at one point in 1988. –Alan T
A. We see more big shifts in the primaries, when voters don’t have that much information about the candidates. Dukakis was a relative unknown at the start of the 1988 race, before the two parties could advance their own narratives. You rarely see big swings in voter conversion in late stage presidential races, though. If I knew how to cause such a swing, I’d be drawing a big salary from one of the campaigns right now.
Freakonomics readers may know that I’m not the most qualified person to talk about using surveys. My first attempt — asking street gang members “How does it feel to be black and poor? Very bad, bad, good, …” — was met with laughter, disbelief and, scorn. (I suppose it was all uphill from that point!)
A basic question social scientists confront is: Why would you want to participate in our survey? Interviews can be long and boring; who wants to sit on the phone or stand on a streetcorner answering questions? A few bucks may not be worth the time. In fact, you have likely already perfected methods of avoiding telemarketers and sidewalk interviewers. From a data standpoint, your skilled avoidance is our problem: the views of respondents can differ from non-participants. From political races to consumer habits to opinion polls … we love numbers, and we need participation to get an accurate reading.
A commitment device is a sort of mind trick to help you accomplish a goal that you don’t quite have the willpower to achieve on your own. Sometimes we need a contract with ourselves, or a little financial stake for motivation. This goal can be exercising, studying, quitting smoking, or anything really.
So we want to ask: have you tried one? What was it? And, most important, how did it turn out?
We’ve been writing a lot about obesity recently. First, it was this study about projected future obesity rates, then we covered Denmark’s saturated fat tax, which Steve Sexton then criticized for being inefficient. So, if you’re tired of reading fat-related posts on our blog, I get it. But as long as reports like this one from Gallup keep coming out, we’re going to keep writing about them, especially when they include so many interesting conversation points.
Here are the top-line numbers:
About 86% of full-time American workers are above normal weight or have at least one chronic condition. These workers miss a combined estimate of 450 million more days of work each year than their healthy counterparts, resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity per year. That’s roughly 1% of GDP.
We had a poll earlier this week that asked: should you give your kids the company? That’s the question of our latest podcast and hour-long Freakonomics Radio special “The Church of Scionology.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or read the transcript here.) At this post’s publishing date, over 80% of those who voted chose that they would give their business to their children — if their heirs were competent and wanted the job.
The data on how many family businesses there are in the U.S. is sketchy; an often-quoted number is that 90% of all businesses are family businesses. But that comes from a paper written in the 1980s. A more reliable figure comes from Ronald C. Anderson and David M. Reeb; their 2003 paper measured founding family ownership present in 35% of firms in the S&P 500. Some estimates say that family businesses account for as much as 50% of the U.S. GDP.
According to a new poll from the Pew Research Center and the Washington Post, more people see raising the debt limit as a bigger risk than not raising it. Though it’s close, and the margin has shrunk over the last two months, 47% say they’re more concerned about the risks that raising the debt limit pose to the U.S. economy than they are over the fallout of failing to do so; 42% see it the other way around.
Sounds like a good time for a Freakonomics Poll:
Companies like Gallup do surveys all the time on a wide range of issues: Who do you intend to vote for in the next election? What issue are you most worried about? Do you approve of the job George Bush is doing as president? Are you in favor of higher taxes? While we’ve expressed skepticism about the answers people might . . .
Our own Gary Langer analyzes polls on recently departed conservative icon Jerry Falwell taken over his lifetime. The results can be summarized as follows: “Popularity with most Americans was not among the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s achievements.” In a development on the link between motherhood and happiness, Science Daily profiles a study done by the U. Michigan Institute for Social Research . . .
A recent study by the ad agency BBDO Worldwide links habitual behavior to product brands. While the findings — that people adopt daily rituals like tooth brushing or midday snacking and typically stick to the same brands while performing them — aren’t very surprising, the methodology is impressive: nine months of ethnographic research in 26 countries, 2,500 hours of documented . . .
Today, ABC News director of polling and Freakonomics.com guest blogger Gary Langer offers an interesting breakdown of recent poll numbers on a particularly timely topic: Whether a pro-abortion stance by a Republican candidate (in this instance, Rudy Giuliani, whose position on the issue has been cited as a major hurdle in his pursuit of the presidential nomination) will in fact . . .
A few days ago, I blogged about how pre-election polls have historically overstated a minority candidate’s standing, but how that gap seems to be shrinking. In other words, according to the Pew Research Center article I cited, people used to lie to pollsters about their willingness to vote for a minority candidate, but now they do so less often. This . . .
Here’s a really interesting article (albeit a few months old) from the Pew Research Center that concerns a point we’ve touched on before: Minority political candidates tend to do better in pre-election polls than in the actual elections, suggesting that voters want to sound color-blind to pollsters but in fact carry a strong racial preference into the booth. The article . . .