Advice from Gallup: Be wary of the data you consume

Just because there is a lot of data out there, doesn’t mean it’s the right data.

This was the advice from Jon Clifton, managing director of the Gallup World Poll, as he discussed a new analytics portal at Gallup. He spoke Wednesday at an event organized by the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

“As a leader, if you’ve got your premises wrong, and you build your strategy and policy based on those premises, the harder you work and the harder your team works the worse you make the world,” Clifton said.

The Gallup World Poll began 10 years ago, inspired by Donald Rumsfeld’s question about whether a Gallup poll could be taken to determine Iraqis’ perception of the United States. The poll that resulted found that people in predominantly Islamic states respect the U.S. for its freedoms.

This was in contrast to post 9/11 rhetoric that Americans’ freedoms were the cause of hate from parts of the Middle East.

“We think leaders can make much better decisions with better data. … In the future, decisions are going to be based on not just stories but also real numbers,” said Joshua Marcuse, board chair of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

In another measure of public opinion of the U.S., Gallup found that 1 out of 6 people around the world would leave their country permanently. Asked where they would like to go, the survey found 165 million people would like to immigrate to the U.S., mostly due to economic reasons but also because most had family living in the U.S.

“It was encouraging and inspiring to be reminded that, as challenged as we are here in America … people all over the world still believe that living in America is better than the alternative,” Marcuse said.

Following the success of the Middle East survey, Gallup has invested $100 million in the Gallup World Poll and has interviewed over 2 million people in over 160 countries. Questions range from about how respondents feel about the U.S. to how they feel about their own lives.

Jon Clifton, managing director of the Gallup World Poll, discusses polling to get the opinions of the world’s population. He underscored the importance of data users checking the methodology of surveys to ensure its accuracy. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaThe worldwide survey tracks people’s opinions on issues affecting them. The poll is based on a framework consisting of several steps: law and order, food and shelter, institutions and infrastructure, good jobs, wellbeing, brain gain – immigration by people with skills – and quality gross domestic product growth.

This is done through face-to-face or telephone surveys in over 140 languages, with 150,000 interviews conducted annually. Telephone interviews take approximately 30 minutes, while face-to-face interviews may take an hour. In face-to-face interviews cultural considerations are taken into account, for example, in some countries only women interview other women.   

“What I thought was interesting was that if you ask people about themselves they are much more likely to tell the truth,” said Paul Taylor, a Young Professionals member who is a strategy and policy expert for Cydedor Inc.

Gallup’s methodology includes randomly selecting neighborhoods and households in those neighborhoods.

Asked about the possibility that respondents lie, Clifton said it’s possible.

“You have to be a good analyst. What you look for are trends that are changing quickly. We can also check it statistically. … How people evaluate their lives highly correlates with GDP per capita,” Clifton said.

Traditional economic indices may not give an accurate sense of what is happening on the ground because people’s opinions about their own lives and national issues are two different things.

An example is that 19 percent of people in the U.S. don’t know who the country gained its  independence from. 

“If you want to know how people are doing in a particular country, the best place to start is by asking them how they are doing, precisely because they are the best experts on their own lives,” Clifton said in an email interview.

Reach Rocky Asutsa at rocky.asutsa@scripps.com or 202-408-1489. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter​.

Originally published on the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire. Reprinted with permission of the author; the original article can be found here.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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