Questionable web survey of the day: smart USA finds Americans prefer “right-sizing”

I ran across a recent survey that initially looked promising as the findings suggested Americans prefer “right-sizing”:

While the last decade is often seen as a period of gluttonous consumption, McMansions, and Super-Size meals, the old adage that less is more seems to be ringing true in today’s post-recession era. The survey found that three out of four Americans prefer to receive a present in a small package over a large one. Those who thought bigger was better tended to be young, a preference that shrinks as people get older and wiser. (34% of Americans age 18-34 preferred bigger presents compared to 22% of those age 45-54 and 17% of those age 55+).

Overall, on the subject of preferring less over more:

  • 97% of Americans believe that at least some of the items in their household are junk (i.e., they could easily get rid of it)
  • Nearly one out of 10 (9%) Americans believe they can part with a full half of their stuff
  • 9% of Americans believe that 51-100% of the items in their household are junk, indicating that the supposed American obsession with size and quantity is overstated

I’m not sure the statistics here strongly show “the supposed American obsession with size and quantity is overstated” but this still seems interesting. Lots of people would argue Americans have too much stuff and particularly the admissions about having some or a lot of junk back this up. But if you read more closely, two issues pop up:

1. The survey was sponsored by smart USA and Harris Interactive. Not familiar with smart USA? Here is a hint:

“The fact that a majority of Americans are deeply concerned with right-sizing their lifestyles and making intelligent choices shows why smart has so much curb appeal today,” says smart USA General Manager Tracey Matura. “People are rethinking whether bigger is actually better and focusing instead on value. They’re looking at how they can cut down the clutter in their lives, whether in their choice of vehicle, home or other purchases, so they have fewer, better things rather than simply more, more, more. And smart is proof that good things do come in small packages.”

So the survey shows that there should be plenty of Americans who want to buy a smart Fortwo! While early sales of the car lagged, Mercedes Benz trumpeted moving 9,341 smart cars worldwide in April 2011. Is this really just a marketing survey?

2. There is another issue with the survey, which happened through the web:

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Smart from December 6-8, 2011 among 2,246 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact terry.wei@mbusa.com.

Perhaps I’m missing something but the admission that this is not based on a probability sample is bad news. This usually means that the survey is not terribly representative of the American population at large. Of course, the surveys results could be weighted to try to make up for this but weighting may not be able to truly adjust for having a bad sample.

In conclusion, I’m not sure this survey really tells us much about anything. I assume that the findings are useful to smart USA but the results about larger American consumer patterns should be used with much caution.

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