Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: Disproportionate satisfaction levels

How do ordinary Taiwanese perceive their quality of life? According to a report published by the National Development Council, more than 80 percent are satisfied with their quality of life, 72 percent find their working conditions acceptable and 70 percent are content with their household finances. However, these glowing figures seem so at odds with how the vast majority of the public actually feel that they were met with suspicion the minute they were published.

When the results of surveys are doubted, people tend to look at problems with how the questionnaire was written, the sampling method and sample size, the statistical methodology and what is known as the “house effect”: How a given polling organization conducts surveys, including what questions it asks and how it asks them.

The council described the poll as a long-term survey, having been carried out since 2006, and methodologically similar to many other surveys. However, from the results, it does seem that the council’s survey could be flawed.

The greatest problem is that the survey’s findings do not tally with common sense or common experience. Of the 19 questions asked, three of them — concerning quality of life, work conditions and environment, and the state of household finances — showed significant increases from last year, to a degree of between 5 and 10 percentage points, and in fact represent record highs since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came to power.

The council did offer explanations for why this year’s results are so different from last year’s and, while they sound plausible, statistical theory would suggest that they are to be taken with a generous pinch of salt.

Of course, the answers to this survey were based on the personal perceptions and experience of the respondents, and they might have been given without much hought. Still, this does not explain how the degree of satisfaction could have increased by so much within the space of a year.

As National Federation of Independent Trade Unions executive secretary Liang Chia-wei (梁家瑋) said, in recent years many workers have been faced with low wages, long work hours and poor working conditions, and for satisfaction levels to increase by such a degree suggests “something is wrong with the numbers.”

The crux of the problem, then, might well be with the council itself, and the house effect. The council is a government institution. Respondents to surveys carried out by government institutions, especially when these surveys are concerned with an evaluation of respondents’ levels of satisfaction with services provided, can tend to be generous in their assessments.

This survey asked about items such as garbage treatment, traffic convenience, public safety and flood and drainage management, and for these the satisfaction level exceeded 80 percent, which can perhaps be accounted for by respondents to a telephone survey being reluctant to be critical of officials, or at least preferring to avoid giving a contrary opinion.

Another possible manifestation of the house effect is officials’ tendency to put a gloss on matters, especially when it comes to public satisfaction levels. The fact that this report just so happens to come in the final year of Ma’s last term in office is even more suspicious.

The house effect is brought more clearly into focus when the findings of previous council surveys are compared with other public opinion polls. For example, during the Sunflower movement protests, survey findings released by the council said that the majority of the public thought the student protesters should leave the Legislative Yuan and allow the legislature to return to normal operation, and that the cross-strait trade in services agreement should be subjected to a clause-by-clause review, without the need to be sent back to the Executive Yuan.

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