logo revista
Year 1 No. 3 September - December 2008

The genuine value of the studies of opinion - Leopoldo Neira Meléndez

Leopoldo Neira Meléndez
Executive President of Dichter & Neira



Executive President of Dichter & Neira, recognized as one of the leading companies in market and opinion investigation of Central America and the Caribbean. 

Dr. Neira received a Ph. D. in Educational Psychology from Southern Illinois University and received the global award John and Mary Goodyear Award 2004 from ESOMAR, the world organization for market researchers.  Currently writes a monthly blog for the magazine El Economista Regional.

The democratic systems are strengthened with the effort of all the living forces of the society.   In democracy, the public opinion studies play a fundamental role upon orienting the thinking and feeling of the unionized.  This role is still greater, when the opinion polls study the intention of vote.  The solid democratic systems have managed to establish a culture relating to the validity of the surveys.  On the contrary, companies where the access to the power is associated to the use of public property; politics and corruption have gone hand by hand.  In this environment, the public opinion polls have had difficulty in having their genuine valued recognized.

This negative attitude, in those countries with little political culture, needs to be reversed by breaking the old paradigms and substituting them with the scientific knowledge of opinion polls and their enormous contribution to the diverse political systems in the worldwide community.  In fact, the political systems have implicit to govern for, with, and by the people.  What better way of knowing the opinion of the governed than by studies of public opinion.

The first paradigm to revert is that the studies of public opinion are subject to economic power.  The reality is that the consolidation undergone by the industry of market investigation has brought as a consequence fewer but larger, more solvent investigation houses where the income for the studies of public opinion do not reach 5% among middle size firms, and less than that percentage in firms with a greater profile.  The investigation agencies do no need for their development the direct income derived from the investigations of public opinion.

In fact, the agencies of market investigation of market agencies that participate in surveys of public opinion risk their prestige and reputation in each election.  Some of the survey firms, especially in latitudes with a culture of public opinion polls, the only referral they receive is the publicity offered by the media.

This situation is already seen in Latin-American countries, and will continue to accentuate in the near future.

Another paradigm to revert is the one enunciating that studies of public opinion are subject to the editorial line of the media which hire them.   The opinion media trying to influence the line of questioning, or any negative influence to safeguard the integrity of the results of the studies are only getting as a result the loss of prestige of the media as well as that of the pollster firm.   The repudiation of the advertisers and the public in general has been such, when it remotely occurs that no excuse has been valid to invalidate the pollster and the media.


In addition to the foregoing, the facility produced by being informed through the Internet has brought as a consequence that the readers, viewers, and radio listeners may opt for other non-traditional means to keep inform, at the minimum sign of the media attempting to publish or spread studies of doubtful credibility.  With the booming development of the Internet and the relatively little global growth of the traditional mass media, the last thing they will aspired to would be precisely to be discredited in an election.



To the extent that the electoral processes in each country are handled with the transparency that has characterized the majority of the recent electoral processes in our hemisphere, we will be building a more tolerant and fairer society.  Some countries, as it is the case of mature democracies like Costa Rica, have demonstrated that the electoral processes can be narrow and proclaim the wining candidate, even if this implies counting the votes twice, without disturbances of the law and order.


Without a doubt, for the electoral processes to be handled correctly, it is important to create the optimal pre-electoral conditions.  Therefore, the role of the Electoral Tribunals of the hemisphere goes beyond the electoral day, and as so must be understood by the citizenry, which in many occasions is perceived, especially where the democratic culture is being built, as a mere electoral function.


In incipient democracies, one of the functions of the Electoral Tribunals has been to regulate the opinion polls spread through the mass media.  Serious companies of market and public opinion studies have contributed in the past, and will continue doing so in the future, to the industry's self-regulation, with the interest of avoiding the proliferation of results, of companies created with the only intent of favoring candidacies of those who have few or no option of an electoral triumph.  


As a consequence of these regulations, each day there is a connoted advance in the creation of a culture in believing in the studies of opinion and with it, the construction of the favorable pre-election conditions, where the company in general can anticipate who are the candidates with greater and smaller option for the triumph.  The antithesis to studies of opinion would be electoral tournaments covered by cloaks of uncertainty, instead of being protected by the scientific theory of the statistical probability.  This is the role that should, and nowadays play the studies of opinion in the electoral tournaments, and with it the democratic construction of our society.