24 / CHRONICLESnLET ME COUNT THE WAYS: WHAT TOnMAKE OF SURVEY RESEARCH by John Shelton Reedn”Things and actions are what they are, and thenconsequences of them will he what they will he:nwhy then should we desire to be deceived?”n—Joseph Butler, Fifteen SermonsnNo doubt many of us could think of an answer or two tonHis Grace’s rhetorical question, but the case for socialnscience—any science, for that matter—rests on what it canncontribute to understanding things and actions and theirnconsequences. For the last 40 years, an increasingly commonnmethod of research in the social sciences has beennsurvey research. Demonstrably, it generates a great manyn”facts.” Is there any good reason to ignore them?n”Don’t confuse me with the facts” is an understandablenand thoroughly human response. Often we just know whatnwe know: if facts support us—well, of course they do; ifnthey don’t, we don’t want to hear about it. Perhaps we cannargue that we hold our beliefs in disregard of the availablenevidence because there are other sorts of truth, higher ones,nbeyond the merely empirical. (John Crowe Ransom’s unor-n]ohn Shelton Reed is professor of sociology at thenUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He studiednsurvey methodology with Paul F. Lazarsfeld and HerbertnHyman at Columbia University.nnnthodox defense of fundamentalism comes to mind.) Butnin the real world, so-called, where social and politicalncontroversy takes place, many will find that argumentnunconvincing.nThere’s no reason for conservatives to be faintheartednabout the kinds of facts that survey research generates thesendays. Particularly as it is used in public-opinion polling, it isntelling us some heartening things, things that you’d nevernlearn from the op-ed pages. Without survey research,nwould we ever have known that young voters liked RonaldnReagan better than old ones, or learned that Reagan’snsupport has been increasing among Black voters? Whethernit is the Gallup Poll that repeatedly demonstrates thatnEpiscopalians want their old prayer book back, or the recentnsurveys that show the common sense of common Black folknon the subject of racial quotas, survey research again andnagain reveals the gulf between ordinary citizens and thenprofessionals who pretend to speak for them. If nothing else,nthese results make clear exactly who is guilty of “elitism,”nand they have made some very deserving people squirm.nFacts very much like these persuaded a good many of thenmost intelligent and honest liberals to abandon liberalism:nwe know them now, of course, as neoconservatives, whosencomplaint about liberalism is not that it’s wrong, but that itndoesn’t work. Things and actions have consequences, allnright, and often not the ones we had in mind. Surveynresearch is one of the routine social-science methods fornfinding out just what’s going on. Not incidentally, one ofnthe best and most effective neoconservative publications isnthe American Enterprise Institute’s Public Opinion magazine,nlargely a compendium of survey results. (The factsnnever entirely speak for themselves, but Public Opinion is anfine ventriloquist.)nSome of us who were in places like Columbia Universitynin the 60’s loved survey research precisely because it couldnbe used to introduce a much-needed note of realism to theninterminable political discussions of those days. It is nonaccident that the student radicals in the social sciencesndetested empirical social research in general and surveynresearch in particular. It constantly told them things theyndidn’t want to hear.nBut conservative humanists, like radical social scientists,nhave also often been suspicious of the frankly empiricalnvarieties of social science that, like survey research, do notnat all resemble social philosophy. There are good reasonsnfor this suspicion, even aside from the temperamentalnaversion to mathematics and statistics common in the softernof C.P. Snow’s “two cultures.” There is indeed somethingnpresumptuous, and perhaps even corrosive, about weighingnand counting and averaging happiness and loyalties, affectionsnand prejudices. Once upon a time, each surveynrespondent wound up, quite literally, as a punch card,nsubject to counting and sorting, if not to folding, spindling,nand mutilating. (Now technology has replaced the cardsnwith magnetic “images” on a tape or disk—not muchnbetter, aesthetically.) It is right that somebody view withn