Yes, No, Don’t Know, Don’t Care!

Most polls, whether political, social or taking the temperature of consumerism have a major flaw. When questions are posed they allow for responses of yes and no and various gradations: strongly and mildly agree or disagree. Some even allow for indecision: don’t know. But rarely does the pollster offer or record another powerful option: don’t care!

Yes or no are self explanatory. Even “Don’t Know” indicates that the pollee has considered the question but either has insufficient information or has had insufficient time to consider a more definite response. Either way a “Don’t Know” pollee is engaged with the poll.

A response of “Don’t Care” by definition is unambiguously an intention NOT to engage with the poll. “Don’t Care” is a response that many deem irresponsible, without thought and without merit. On the contrary, a firm “Don’t Care” informs the pollster that a definite decision on the subject matter has already been made and that the pollsters task is at an end for that pollee.

There is at least one poll that can make an informed guess at the level of “Don’t Cares”. Election polls in Australia, where voting is supposedly compulsory, give an indication of the possible size of the “Don’t Cares”. For in Australia, as in each of its State and Territory jurisdictions, enrolment to vote is also compulsory.

At the last Federal Election in 2010, the national turnout of voters was just over 93% of enrolments. So 7% of 14,088,000 potential voters couldn’t or wouldn’t turn up to vote. Nor did they take the opportunity to cast their votes in any one of several other ways the Australian Electoral Commission provides for those who would for some reason have difficulty turning up to a polling place. So about 985,000 people failed to vote despite being enrolled.

A further 5.5% of those who did vote, or 729,000 people, voted informally either by choice or by unintentional voting error.

Finally of people over 18, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) estimates around 1,400,000 are not enrolled at all in 2010.

So at the 2010 election we had an eligible voting population of 15,488,000 of whom 3,114,000 (20%) couldn’t vote (not enrolled), didn’t vote (enrolled but didn’t turn up) or voted ineffectively (voted informally).

There are indeed a myriad of reason that people are not enrolled, don’t turn up to vote or vote informally. However The AEC makes it their business to limit the numbers in each of these categories through advertising, education and making voting available to people regardless of their circumstances.

So, let us assume that half of these 3 million people intended to vote effectively but for some reason they were not on the electoral roll, could not take advantage of the myriad of ways to vote or simply unintentionally and unknowingly made a mistake on their ballot that made it informal.

That still leaves 1,557,000 adult Australians who one way or the other DON’T CARE about the outcome of the main election in Australia every three years. In case that doesn’t sound like a lot, 1,557,000 people, evenly spread among the 150 lower house electorate amounts to around 10,380 per electorate who don’t care! Or if they were divided into their own electorates, the “Don’t Cares” would amount to an extra 15 electorates. In a country that now has a hung parliament with no party having a majority and six independents or somewhat independently minded, an extra 10,000 votes per electorate or an extra 15 electorates could make or break the intentions of ANY intending government.

And as to polling of matters outside politics? Oprah coming to Australia: at least 75% “Don’t Care”; Justin Bieber touring Australia and tickets can be purchased online: over 18’s 98% “Don’t Care”. And the 2%? They are the parents of the tweens who do the drop off and pick ups!

Finally how does the pollster know to record a “Don’t Care”? If the poll is by phone, the phone being hung up before the end of the first question renders all answers “Don’t Care”. If the poll is in person, a closed door, a person who walks away or any other show of disinterest is a “Don’t Care”. The great thing about the “Don’t Care” response is that the pollster will know after one question!

To the pollsters of the world: all polls, surveys and questionnaires are incomplete without a response of “Don’t Care”.


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