WHAT if you want to know what kind of market there is for an item you’ve crafted for sale?

You’d ask people—your neighbors, and those who frequent your store. If there were a dozen people who came in a day, you’d have an idea whether the item would attract more people if fashioned bigger (or smaller), in what color, lighter or heavier.

In the mountain barangays, how exactly does the farmer and his family want the amakan to be fashioned so he’d buy it from the store other than from a neighboring one? To buyers, how would the bamboo woven flat, creatively and strong, be more attractive as a wall?

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If the buyer-interviewee writes down his answers (and in English), would you call this a survey?

Besides the issues burning anywhere in the country at this season of election, another item calling everyone’s attention is the survey. There are many reactions to an electoral poll, you could drown in it.

Politicians, whom a survey says are lagging behind, would put the survey result aside. “People—not surveys—elect leaders,” said presidential candidate Sen. Richard Gordon.

Presidental candidate Eddie Villanueva thinks the same way. In a news item, he “has accused poll and media organizations of manipulating surveys especially on presidential aspirants for the 2010 national elections.”

A survey-nonbeliever, in reaction to a write-up on a Pulse Asia survey, says, “Absent siguro ako noon nang itinuro ng teacher namin tungkol sa calculation ng percentage.”

Some months back, there was an opinion survey on who was likely to win the presidential election, when VP Noli de Castro was believed to run for the position. In that survey, he led, followed by former president Estrada.

The reaction on the Internet was blaring. One blogger from Rizal said, “It’s a pre-election trend- and mind-setting activity.”

That, of course, is seen as one of the effects; lucky for those who can afford surveys. A survey could kindle the condition of popularity, not a candidate’s quality as leader, so goes the conclusion.

Do you believe in political surveys?

“NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!NO!...” wrote a blogster named Alitaptap four times over. Even as another wrote, “YES!YES!YES!YES!....” a bit less times over. How do the interviewers form the questions, or even say them loud in what tone, with the eyes twinkling?

Those who doubt the results have many questions in mind. To begin with, consider the interviewers---are they honest, or are they lazy, unable to read the non-verbal answers?

It’s said that there were cases in a survey outfit in Australia when some of the interviewers were found out to have filled up the questionnaires themselves.

How about the interpreters?

In a blog, as an example, you would be asked, “Do you care about the environment?” And the options are: Yes, a lot; Yes, a little; and Not at all. If the results were, as the sample went, 30 (yes, a lot)-60 (yes, a little)-10 (not at all), how do you interpret the count?

An environmentalist, who’d want government to put more teeth into the measures that would save the earth, would say that 90 percent (30 and 60 percent) of people do care about the environment. A thoughtless business man in the mining industry would say (using the same data) that 70 percent (60 and 10 percent) of the respondents don’t care a lot.

A survey is “a statistical study of a sample population by asking questions.”

The Babylonians were the first society to count the population, done every five years, first in 3800 B.C. in a survey for the king to find out who should be taxed. Since it included a census of livestock and other goods, it was intended for the government to expand the economic well-being of the kingdom.

But I suppose the census and the survey have gone a long way from there--very helpful statistics in business, or cleverly utilized in election campaigns. In some, if not many cases, surveys do really form beliefs and opinions, they don’t ask questions.