How does the language used in polls, questionnaires and other information gathering devices of this sort influence the conclusions reached?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The language, or perhaps more precisely the wording, used in polls and questionnaires can have a tremendous impact on the conclusions drawn from those polls because it can dramatically affect the kinds of answers that one gets to the questions that are asked.  There are many examples of polling where different question wording can elicit different answers.  Let us look at three examples from the links below.

In one set of polls, it was found that the wording of possible answer choices affected approval ratings for President Obama.  When people were given the choice of approving or disapproving of his performance, his ratings were better than when people were given the choice of approving strongly, approving somewhat, disapproving somewhat, or disapproving strongly.  In another set of polls taken during the presidency of George W. Bush, people said domestic policy should be his main focus when asked to choose between that and foreign policy.  However, when asked whether he should focus on domestic policy or “the war on terrorism,” they picked the war on terrorism which is, of course, an aspect of foreign policy.  Finally, we have the current issue of whether businesses should be allowed to refuse to serve same-sex couples.  When people are asked if they “oppose a law allowing refusal of service” 67% say they are opposed (and are therefore in favor of gay rights).  When people are asked if they “oppose a law forbidding refusal of service” 61% say they are opposed (and therefore opposed to gay rights).

All of these examples show the importance of the way a question is asked in a poll or questionnaire.  Different language can yield different results, thus affecting the conclusions the researcher draws. 

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eli468 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Language used in polls, questionnaires, and other information gathering devices influence the conclusion reached through a variety of reasons. One large one is that wording creates certain emotions within people. If something is worded slightly differently but with the same meaning, it could still invoke a different emotion in someone, causing them to answer a certain way. The language used for these is done in a way to usually spark an emotion in someone, causing their answer to go one way or another. For example, seeing a question like," Should we raise money for school funding?" versus," Should we raise money to fund the school for *inserts specific reasons*." This can make a large difference because in the second phrase it specifically says to fund the school, indicating it would be for a specific school such as a parent's children's school. Also, the second phrase is more specific. This may change how someone responds. Even though, with my example, many people would say yes either way, each phrase still would invoke a different emotion in the person reading it.

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