Using surveys

There are six common types of surveys.  First, a ‘scientific survey’ is the kind is where you want to find out what people believe.  Second, a ‘conversation starter’ is where you just want to challenge people to think on an issue.  Third, a ‘plebiscite’ is where you want to demonstrate support for your position.  Fourth, ‘feedback survey’ where you just want comment and ideas.  Fifth, a ‘media survey’ aims really to attract public debate via the media outlet. Sixth, a political canvass survey aims to boost an election campaign.

The scientific survey

  • Scientific surveys should not be done by activists, since activists will influence the answers people give through tone of voice or body language.  Most people, especially women, try to give answers that please the person asking the question.  So, rather find people who feel less strongly about the issue to ask the questions.  If you have money, hire others to do it.
  • The question must be carefully designed by someone who understands both the issue and the psychology of questions to:

–         give information you want;

–         avoid leading questions to generate an answer;  For example, asking “whether people support a womans right to choose ToP“, will get a different response to asking “whether they oppose the killing of unborn babies for convenience“.  Use neutral language.

–         allow a variety of answers that reflect peoples true positions.  For example, how strongly do they feel?  Do they support in some circumstances, but not in others?

  • Be careful of exclusion.  For example, a telephone poll excludes people who don’t have phones.  Any survey where people must phone, write in, or vote on a web site voluntarily is not scientific.  It is just a media stunt to attract attention to their publication or the issue.
  • The questionnaire should capture statistical information such as age group, gender, religion, educational level, political affiliation, area of residence that may show how different types of people view the issue.   The surveyors must then ensure that they ask a representative sample that reflects the people who live in the country as a whole.
  • Look at previous surveys on the same subject to help you design it.
  • Ask a big enough sample to be statistically significant in relation to the target group you are surveying.  Someone who has done university statistics should be able to help you.
  • Show the results in graphs that illustrate and communicate the data to help decision-making.
  • Repeat the same identical survey to compare.  For example, before and after a campaign in the same area to test your impact on opinion.

The conversation starter

A ‘conversation starter’ survey aims to get people talking about an issue.  It can be used as a lead for evangelism or discussion on worldviews or an issue.

  • Smile.  Introduce yourself and organisation.
  • Ask if they will participate in the survey.  Respect their right not to do so.
  • Get the persons name and contact details to follow them up if needed.
  • Ask an easy question first.  This will build rapport and make them confident to talk to you further.
  • Ask them questions that give you information about what they believe.
  • Ask them questions that are very difficult for an untrained person to answer.
  • When they pause to think, say they don’t know or get it wrong – ask if they have a few minutes to listen to you explain the answer.  Then have a planned short and simple presentation of facts that will challenge them.
  • Avoid arguments that create pride and lead no-where.
  • Avoid confusing technical language and advanced information.   Keep your message simple.
  • Speak from your own experience of belief.  This personalises the issue to them and makes it less abstract.
  • Offer some sort of follow up response.  If evangelism, this would be a prayer of commitment.  If an issue, it is to visit a meeting of your group or read something more.

Plebiscite to prove support

  • A survey to prove support for a cause is really a form of referendum to show support for a cause.
  • It may be better for credibility purposes, to get a disinterested or neutral group to do the survey, while you concentrate on campaigning.

The feedback survey

You may want to survey your membership to get their views on an event or programme or your whole organisation.

  • Try to get them to fill in the form at a meeting where you hand it out before they go home.  Otherwise, those who don’t feel strongly will not fill it in – and you will only get the views of the few who do feel strongly.  Nevertheless this information may still help you identify problems to be addressed.
  • Ask questions that will help you improve what you do next time around.

The media survey

Media companies often ask people to vote on an issue on a telephone line, web site or published survey form.  This is not the slightest bit scientific: Firstly, organised groups can encourage members to vote.  Secondly, the majority of people who don’t feel strongly won’t vote.  The main purpose is usually to attract attention to the media publication or awaken debate on the issue.

Despite this, many people do believe in media surveys.  However unfair the debate, we must aim to win it because it will influence others.  The opposition will also organise.  So promote to your email list or photocopy the response form or advertise the phone number at meetings.  Use media debate opportunities to air your views and encourage others to phone or write in.

Political canvassing survey

  • Ask voters to say which of a list of issues on your candidates campaign agenda is of concern to them.
  • Tell them what your candidate will do about that issue.
  • Thank them for their assistance and encourage them to vote for your party.
  • Benefits are that your party is seen to be consulting the community and your candidates agenda gets known.


Do not allow a survey to be used as a published representation of what Christians believe.  Christians should believe the Bible and the Biblical view on issues is what we must publish.  If the survey results show otherwise, it shows the need for more education.  We don’t use survey results to reinforce or justify people’s confusion on issues or display division.