WHY COMPARE HOA SURVEYS IN A FUN-HOUSE MIRROR?

An Opinion By David I. Goldenberg, Ph.D.
Secretary, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published October 13, 2008

Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. recently published the results of its objective survey of the views of 1,033 homeowners in Florida HOAs about 14 proposed reforms of Florida Statute 720 that regulate their communities. 

The results were overwhelmingly in favor of legislative reforms that will aid the homeowners.  Moreover, those findings conclusively rebutted propaganda previously published by opponents of reform.  Notably, the CCFJ survey shows that a majority of homeowners favor reform and that they are willing to pay a nominal fee for an independent agency with enforcement powers to monitor HOA boards.  

The report is available on our website at: http://www.ccfj.net/CCFJHOASURVEYCOMPLETERES.html

Feel free to e-mail any questions you may have about this study to me at Dave@CCFJ.net.  

There are only two basic types of surveys or polls.  Some are valid.  Others aren't.   This is a critical distinction, since a recent article erroneously asserted that CCFJ’s survey mirrored ones released earlier by lobbyists opposed to legislative reform.

Valid surveys or polls are designed to interview a representative sample of the group being studied, in this case homeowners in Florida HOAs, to reliably find out what the entire group wants or believes. Valid surveys have other important distinguishing traits. The questions asked to solicit answers are phrased to avoid biasing the respondents. The data gathered are carefully and thoroughly analyzed. The findings of the analysis follow logically from the data and have a high and explicit level of statistical reliability. CCFJ utilized its best resources to conduct a valid survey and to accurately and completely report the results of that study.

Invalid surveys or polls produce unreliable results, because they don't ask the right mix of people properly phrased questions.  Nor do they carefully and thoroughly analyze their data.  But pollsters who publish the results of invalid polls often make claims unsupported by their data.  Survey professionals have two derisive terms for such invalid work.  They call invalid studies "push polls" because the respondents are pushed into answering loaded questions.   Survey professionals, particularly statisticians, refer to the data from invalid surveys as PARC statistics; that's crap spelled backwards. 

The studies by various Florida law firms' lobbying subsidiaries clearly are push polls because:

  • They didn't interview a representative sample of homeowners.  The latest CAN poll relied on only 282 responses.  Findings cannot be reliable when taken from so small a sample of so diverse a population.
  • Anonymous responses were accepted which makes it impossible to validate participation.

  • Duplicate responses were not removed from the database.  That makes it impossible to determine both the actual number of responses and the sampling error range for each question.
  • Only board members whose association boards were clients of the lobbyists' parent law firms were invited to respond. 
  • Most of the responses reportedly came from South Florida and the Naples area which represent only two of Florida 's five major geographic regions.
  • Many of the questions were biased either in their phrasing or the limited choice of answers.

  • The analysis was superficial.  No cross-tabulations.  No statistical tests.

  • Findings reported did not always follow logically from the data.  For instance:  "Some 41% of all Florida community association owners surveyed reported annual household income of $50,000-$99,000."  (CALL 2005 Florida Community Living Survey, page 4)   But the published questionnaire did not ask respondents about their income. 
  • The latest report from the CAN poll made the unsupported claim that the respondents believed that their boards needed more enforcement powers.  Those interviewed were not asked what powers their boards already have.  Nor were they asked how skillfully they used their existing powers, how often they found it necessary to use those powers, or which specific additional powers were needed and why.  More importantly, the powers already granted boards allow them to place liens and foreclose on homes for small amounts of unpaid dues.   Abuse of those powers is rampant throughout the country, not just in Florida.   Why grant additional sweeping powers to those who persist in abusing the powers they already have?

According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (emphasis added):

PUSH POLL

A push poll is a political campaign technique in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls may rely on innuendo or knowledge gleaned from opposition research on an opponent.

    

SURVEY

Statistical surveys are used to collect quantitative information about items in a population. Surveys of human populations… are common in political polling and government, health, social science and marketing research. A survey may focus on opinions or factual information depending on its purpose, and many surveys involve administering questions to individuals…It is an efficient way of collecting information from a large number of respondents…Because they are standardized, they are relatively free from several types of errors.

                 

When the results of CALL’s push polls were challenged, their sponsor belatedly tried to repudiate them as "not having any scientific value."  That’s a false and misleading statement.  Those polls not only scientifically revealed their sponsors’ biases but also showed their willingness to deliberately mislead legislators and the public.  Those opponents of legislative reform knowingly chose to sponsor invalid studies when they could have afforded valid surveys. Evidently they sensed that the truth contradicted their position and so decided to resort to push polls and to lie about the results.  Having disowned their earlier push polls, the same people evidently panicked when they learned that CCFJ’s survey was underway.  They hastily authorized another even worse push poll by CAN in a desperate attempt to confuse legislators and the public about Florida homeowners’ strong desire for legislative reform.


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