According to today’s SMH happiness coverage, four out of ten Australians think that the overall quality of life in Australia is getting worse, while a quarter think it is getting better. The text of the question looks to be from a Newspoll series:
Thinking now about the overall quality of life in Australia, taking into account social, economic and environmental conditions and trends, would you say that life in Australia is getting better, worse or staying the same?
But if as a pollster you were asked to design a question to get junk answers you couldn’t do much better than this one. It is very vague – compared to when? (one of the earlier surveys found that people were inclined to regard the years of their early adulthood as the best general period, which suggests that personal experiences rather coloured perceptions of the overall social climate). It also requires respondents to do two things that they are not very good at – comparing over time, as I discussed earlier in the week; and assessing how other people are going, where they suffer from information bias – the media is more likely to report negative than positive stories, for example. As a result, when you ask people to judge trends in time for verifiable social or economic circumstances or events they almost always gets it wrong.