Saturday, 23 July 2005

Poll dancing

More than once while waiting at an airport I have agreed to give five minutes of my time to some nice girl who approaches me with a clipboard, even though I know her questions will be extremely boring ones about where I’m going and why and how often I do it (travel by air, that is). I’m an inveterate early inchecker so often have some time to kill after doing everything it is possible to do in a departure lounge.

I give a polite refusal to other requests for polling interviews – in the street or on the phone – because in those situations there is always something better to do than trying to formulate opinions on matters to which I am totally indifferent.

However, although I resent being asked to spend my time in this way without being offered so much as a little sticker for my lapel, I am always willing to turn an honest – or for that matter a dishonest – penny, and for some months now I have been submitting myself to regular internet polls in return for a small honorarium. For one thing, each one takes only a few minutes, and I can choose times to do them when I am waiting for something else – for the kettle to boil, or while I listen to some unpleasant music-on-hold. And 50p a go is not to be sneezed at, although I won’t get a cheque until I am due £50, which will be in mid-2006.

A huge range of subjects is covered, sometimes more than one in a single poll; some are matters of vital importance to the country or the world and others are unutterably trivial. Oddly, the former kind are easier than the latter: when asked my opinion of Tony Blair’s premiership on a scale of 1 (Outstandingly brilliant) to 10 (Disastrous), my mouse hand moves like lightning. Some of the political themes, though, are more difficult: given a list of policies and asked to arrange them in the order in which you think they are prioritised by the Liberal Democrats calls for a great deal of deep thought.

The dreariest polls are those, presumably being carried out on behalf of retailers or manufacturers, which ask you to state your preferences in, or attitudes to, a great number of products with most of which you are unfamiliar. Happily, there is always an option which covers several answers you might want to give, such as “Absolutely no view”, “Don’t understand what you mean”, “Never heard of it”, “Can’t be bothered to answer this one” and, particularly, “Oh, for goodness’ sake!”. They allow you to say simply “Don’t know”.

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