Why is the debate structure better than a poll or a survey? Or is it?
The difference lies in a representational proxy or a democracy. With a survey or a poll only select people are included. This is usually around 1500 people. They are asked one question or perhaps several. But their answers are limited to the choices that the survey creator provides.
So, they are constrained by the number of people who reply, they are constrained by the answers that are offered to them, they are constrained by how the questions are posed and the specific wording. They are also constrained by time. They show a moment in time when sentiment was in one direction or the other and the final result is represented by a number or a percentage.
This percentage then is intended to inform a leader or decision-maker as to what action to take.
More often than not it is wrong, incomplete or not very useful.
Polls and surveys pretty much run the same way. When the pollster publishes his data he makes it available for people to read. The identity of the users is anonymized and aggregated. So we learn something like 20% of the respondents were males between the ages of 29 to 35 with incomes greater than $50,000.
Or a random sample of respondents declare that issue A should move forward. This is a little like a referendum.
So what’s wrong with this?
Well the downside is an individual doesn’t get a chance to contribute beyond the fixed responses or menu of choices. It is not broad-based. So most people are excluded from these surveys and polls.
The data gathered and the insights gleaned are not actionable unless some other entity decides to take action on a specific decision or poll result. It’s simply fodder for the newspapers. In fact, the target audience of respondents is usually supposed to represent the country. However these may not be people who really care about the particular issue.
So why is a debate a better format?
A debate is open to anyone, not just the chosen few. A debate allows anyone to speak up. Their questions, answers and comments are not prescribed by the author. A debate allows for comment and rebuttal. These comments, rebuttals and counter rebuttals are arguments and they are positioned so that they represent either a favorable or unfavorable position on an issue. Basically, their bias is encoded into their comment.
A debate can then be shared on a per argument or debate basis with a much broader group and used to bring more people into the debate. By having more people in the debate you end up with a larger crowd and nuanced comments that you might not otherwise uncover.
A contributor within the debate can vote on comments they like, they can maintain private or public debates and we can learn something about the person who started the whole debate.
If users want to take the debate to the next level they can get their position fixed and actually make their intelligence actionable by contributing to a cause.
A debate can then be taken up since it is financed and move forward along political lines. By engaging government affairs professionals or a lobbyist, users and contributors to the debate can actually begin to affect public policy.
Since users are identified when they join the debate their voices are tied to their correct political jurisdictions and they can be aligned with the correct legislator.
The user has the safety of the group yet the respect of the platform in order to advance their position.
The other distinction with the debate platform is that users who participate can form a community. This is optional because some people may not want to join. But the opportunity to find like-minded people exists.
The debate occurs over a longer period of time. So it is not an isolated event that occurs in a moment of excitement. It maintains a longer-term continuity and can assist in a thread of discussion that gives more clarity to many parts of an issue particularly a complex one.
The debate has all the benefits and none of the constraints of a survey or a poll.
So the key benefits of the debate versus a survey are the following:
- It is open
- Community focused
- Allows comment and dissent
- Tracks voting
- Aligns users constituents and decision-makers
- Can be shared
- Can be used to make decisions
So, do we have a place for surveys and polls? Yes. But do we also have a place for online public debate? We do now.