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The RBJ Snap Poll: where readers weigh in

How do you find out what people think? Ask them.
That simple logic is the impetus behind the RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll. Each week for the last six months we’ve posed one or more questions to readers of our Daily Report, which is delivered by e-mail each weekday afternoon. And many of those readers have been very willing to share their thoughts.
How many? Typically 400 to 600, but a number of the polls have generated more than 800 responses. And a few have topped 1,000.
Timeliness is a big factor. More than 850 people took part in a poll conducted close on the heels of Mayor Robert Duffy’s announcement that he wanted to enter into an option agreement giving the city exclusive rights to buy Midtown Plaza. A couple of polls related to fast-ferry developments also have sparked big responses.
But it’s sometimes hard to predict what topic will resonate with readers. A survey about local cultural attractions was very popular, while the number of people taking part in a poll on Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks’ controversial “Community Solution” was only average.
The polls frequently come up in conversations I have with businesspeople around town. Often they want to talk about the results to a particular survey. But sometimes they have questions about the Snap Poll itself. The following are answers to some of those questions:
Who can take part in the weekly Snap Poll? Anyone who has signed up to receive the free RBJ Daily Report e-mail is eligible to take part in the surveys.
So, these are polls of RBJ readers, not the community as a whole? The Snap Poll is neither a survey of the entire community nor of all Rochester Business Journal readers. Some subscribers to the print edition have not signed up to receive the daily e-mail, and a fair number of Daily Report readers do not get the print edition. The survey population is Daily Report readers-a diverse group of entrepreneurs, business owners and employees, non-profit executives, educators and government officials, among others.
Is the Snap Poll “scientific”? It does not employ random sample methodology, which is necessary to determine the probability that a survey accurately represents the view of a certain population. But our experience so far suggests the polls do paint a fairly credible picture of readers’ views. The online survey tool enables us to get real-time tabulations, and we’ve noticed a consistent, striking pattern: Once 50 to 75 people have submitted their responses, the results rarely change by more than a few percentage points-even as the number of respondents grows to 400, 800 or 1,000.
Do you try to prevent “ballot stuffing”? Yes. We can identify and filter out “votes” generated by a Daily Report reader forwarding the survey link to a group of non-readers. The same software tool enables us to exclude multiple responses from a single Daily Report reader.
I frequently take part in the Snap Poll, but sometimes I think one of the questions should have been worded differently. Sometimes I think so too! How you frame a question is probably the most important-and trickiest-part of polling. We try to come up with questions that are fair and balanced, and also are likely to produce a meaningful response.
Why is “don’t know” never one of the choices for an answer? That’s by design. To those who think they don’t have an opinion, we’re saying: “If you did, what would it be?” Those who truly do not have an opinion on a particular topic can-and presumably do-choose not to participate in that poll.
Each week in the print edition you publish a few comments from poll participants. Are those the only comments submitted? No, that’s a fraction of them. With each poll we receive anywhere from 50 to 500 comments. On Friday, we post most, if not all, of the signed comments on our Web site, rbjdaily.com. We generally do not post or publish unsigned comments.
Why not publish unsigned comments? Because we want to encourage an open and responsible debate of issues. The majority of comments submitted are unsigned, and many of them are thoughtful and well-written. Even so, we think personal accountability is an important part of any public discussion.
Are the poll responses truly anonymous? Yes. While we can filter out responses from those who are not in our database, Daily Report readers’ identities are not linked to their specific answers. The only exception, of course, is if you also submit a signed comment that reveals your views.
OK, how do I sign up to take part in the polls? Just sign up to receive the free Daily Report e-mail (which gives you breaking news that often does not appear in the print edition). To do so, go to: http://www.rbj.net/dailyform.htm. It’s that simple!
rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303

4/13/2007 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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