You can take what you want from surveys and decide what you will about their significance. They might be quite telling. After all, anytime a TV network conducts yet another survey of 400 people they randomly called (plus or minus 3 percentage points), they trot out the results like they’ve just discovered some life-changing information that will influence the future of our planet — or at least an election.
Then again, they might be a waste of time. Who was asked? How were the questions worded? Surveys can be quite meaningless, some will argue, especially when they don’t agree with the results. Based on the response, or perhaps lack of response, it seems most people didn’t think much of Councilman Gary Hooser’s “Important Kauai Issues Survey” that was mailed out to 21,000 registered voters on Kauai, from Haena to Kekaha. They didn’t find it too important.
Not even 1,000 registered voters responded to the direct mail effort, a 4.5 percent response rate. Hooser reported that responses came in from every single community from the far west to the far north. That’s good. But it’s troubling that for every 100 people, only 4 1/2 bothered to read the survey, answer the questions and put a stamp on it to mail it back. That’s too bad. Apathy — basically a lack of interest, not caring — is unfortunate, especially coming from the very people who are affected by the decisions of our elected leaders. One would think residents would want to let their elected leaders know what matters to them. A survey that arrives at your door seems one convenient way to do that without making a trip to the Historic County Building to speak before the County Council.
But then again, it’s not too surprising that 95.5 percent didn’t return the single-page questionnaire. Consider how few people actually attend county council meetings and share their opinions, even when the issues are things that directly impact them like taxes, roads and budgets. The lack of response was really the most telling piece that came out of this survey.
People are busy these days. Many have multiple jobs and have little free time to fill out some survey that unexpectedly arrived in the mail. And so much junk mail courtesy of the Postal Service arrives in our mailboxes daily, certainly many believed it to be just that and tossed it away. One caller to TGI said she didn’t realize there was a survey in the envelope until it was too late to respond when she was looking for scrap paper for notes and happened to turn it over. And the survey did require a stamp so it could be returned, so it could be that many were unwilling to invest the 47 cents for the required postage and found it annoying they were asked to do so. It could very well be that many people simply don’t believe government leaders will actually listen to anything they have to say and it’s a waste of time to try and get through to them… And you may find the majority of people are satisfied to work hard, take care of their own and live with the decisions of elected leaders.
Still, that a councilman mailed a survey should be enough to garner, let’s say, a 15 percent response rate. The survey questions included topics dealing with growth, climate change, food sustainability, park maintenance, pesticide regulation, the dairy proposed on Kauai’s South Shore, bed and breakfast regulations, farm tours, taxes, drug treatment and affordable housing.
“I wanted to offer all Kauai registered voters from all parts of the community an equal opportunity to offer their thoughts and concerns,” Hooser wrote. “The survey allowed anonymity providing all with the opportunity to speak freely and frankly about issues important to them.”
While the survey response was small, nearly 1,000 responses does provide a snap shot of the community’s collective viewpoint.
In the end, the intentions were good and one must give the councilman credit for taking this step to collect input from residents. Some will argue, of course, that it’s an election year and that’s what this was all about, an effort to get votes. The survey was paid for by Friends of Gary Hooser, his campaign organization. But rather than criticize a councilman for trying to get feedback from residents, we think the effort deserves praise. Trying to determine what citizens want, and acting on those wants, is among the duties of any elected leader.