Consumer Surveys: Don’t Trust Them

By Dr. Bill Conerly, Businomics, Conerly Consulting LLC,

In graduate school I was taught to distrust surveys of consumer behavior.  “Look at what they do, not what they say,” was the lesson.  The Wall Street Journal reinforces that training with an eye-opening article about people lying to poll-takers.  One striking example is the discrepancy between answers to a live person on the telephone compared to entering answers on a computer form:

Went to church last week:     56% on the phone,     25% online
Gambled last month:           21% on the phone,     28% online
Donate to charity regularly:  67% on the phone,     57% online
Brush teeth twice daily:      78% on the phone,     64% online
Exercise regularly:           58% on the phone,     35% online
Drank alcohol last week:      39% on the phone,     53% online

Keep this in mind whenever you see a consumer survey.  Even more importantly, when a newspaper reporter draws a conclusion from interviewing a handful of people, be very, very skeptical.


Bill Conerly is principal of Conerly Consulting LLC, chief economist of, and was previously Senior Vice President at First Interstate Bank. Bill Conerly writes up-to-date comments on the economy on his blog called “Businomics” and produces a monthly audio magazine available on CD. Conerly is author of “Businomics™: From the Headlines to Your Bottom Line: How to Profit in Any Economic Cycle”, which connects the dots between the economic news and business decisions.

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