Primary vs. Secondary Research


This Gallup poll measured how much the average consumer spent per week in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, and per day in the three days before it. The data is gathered using Gallup's familiar random-digit dialing, and they reached 2,000 respondents for the first poll and 1,500 for the second.

All the data is, in Gallup's words, "self-reported," and my only question is why did they do primary research for this with a phone survey? Shouldn't they have done some secondary research and measured sales from retailers and other businesses?

Gallup does admit the "data aligns with chain store sales," which does offer some reliability to the poll. However, I feel as though a phone survey just simply is not a very appropriate way of measuring consumer spending.

For starters, I don't think the sample is right. The average American doesn't pay enough attention to their budgets to accurately answer Gallup's questions. Businesses, on the other hand, pay professionals to track every penny in sales. They could offer exact quotes as to how much consumers have spent in their stores, which could then be averaged and fairly generalized to the overall consumer population. Businesses make a much more valid sample.

Furthermore, the polls actually measured a dip in consumer spending compared to previous years, yet other Gallup polls (included some mentioned in my blogs) have actually measured increasing consumer confidence and outlook on things like jobs and the economy. If consumers feel that spending is OK again, then why are they spending less this year? The data gathered may have been consistent with chain store data, but it is not consistent with other related data.

Lastly, Gallup's summary theorizes that the dip in spending is caused by the rise of Cyber Monday and the upcoming "fiscal cliff" as reasons that consumers didn't spend as much this time around. Yet these are two contradicting explanations. If consumers were truly worried about a "fiscal cliff" would they not spend less on Cyber Monday as well? And if they were saving for Cyber Monday, wouldn't they not be worried about the "fiscal cliff?"

I feel as though this was a poor poll, and the researchers should have been gathering their data from secondary sources to measure consumer spending. It just goes to show that sometimes the answer doesn't lie in your own data, it lies in someone else's.

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