Saturday, 12 April 2008

Me, guv?

I do YouGov surveys as and when I can, and it's generally pretty rewarding (not, of course, monetarily, but I'm sometimes able to trick myself into thinking that I'm making a difference). Part of the enjoyment comes from looking through the results, many of which provide some sort of tiny insight into public opinion/experience (at least, weighted by access to the internet).

For the most part, the questions are about political-allegiance, brand-awareness, news stories or social issues, and while the majority of them are well structured and straightforward to answer, there's the occasional one that throws me a bit. For instance, today I was asked:

This strikes me as a really weird question to ask. How can I say who I would trust based on just their job? Given any occupation, I can imagine people within that job that I would trust and people that I would not. It seems absurdly black and white to put down something like: I 'trust' dentists and 'do not trust' lawyers.

Of course, in all cases surveys are taking down simplified information (I may not agree with all of the views of a political party, but I can say which one I support), but in this case there seems to be far too much grey area to be able to make a realistic decision. In addition, what are we trusting them with? Are we talking professional opinion (would I trust a doctor to give me medical advice, but not a cleaner to give me advice about cleaning?), or money (would I lend £x to a fireman, but not a teacher?) or personal trust (would I be more likely to divulge a personal secret to a lawyer or a policeman?).

In most cases, as I say above, it would depend entirely on the person involved. A lawyer who has served several members of my family honestly over many years? Probably trusted. A lawyer who turns up beside my hospital bed after an accident? Probably not so much trusted. But the trust would be affected so much more by this contextual point than by the fact that they were a lawyer.

There were a couple of other questions with the same list of occupations? Which occupations do I respect more/less? Which occupations have more/less influence in Britain today? Both of these questions fall into the same mental gap I have about the other question. I can't make that kind of judgement about an entire group of people, because there is such a huge variation between the groups. Would it be appropriate to question which gender I would trust, or which racial group I have respect for?

Have I missed something about these questions? Would most people be able to answer them? Or are they at best statistically useless, and at worst deliberately divisive, encouraging generalisation and labelling people because of their job?

Which occupations do you trust?

1 comment:

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

This is an interesting point, had I been doing this survey I probably would have dived in with my prejudices about people in certain jobs and not really thought about it.

However it is very true that difference circumstances would change my opinion drastically.

I generally have a thing whereby doctors, dentist etc. I would generally trust, however as with all things they will have different levels of skill (which worries me mildly) and people who run businesses involving money, lawyers, bank managers I tend not to trust as much (even with things like how best to invest my money) as they are more likely to be influenced by the amount of money they make out of the deal, where as doctors tend not to be. But whether this is a sensible way of thinking I do not know, I don't want to be all trusting and then be blatently ripped off (or other such things which don't have anything to do with money) but I don't really want to be overly synical.