Sunday, June 9, 2019

How You Ask the Question

You've probably heard that survey responses vary a lot depending on how the questions are asked, but that doesn't just mean the question had obviously biased wording. The framing or assumptions underlying the question matter, too. I think about that a lot when I hear about survey results on, say abortion... 77% percent of people oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, for instance, which seems like a fairly clear way to have phrased a yes-no question, but lower numbers support other important aspects of reproductive freedom, and for those I wonder how the question was asked.

Here's an example from a different area, which I heard on Twitter recently, from Thomas Chatterton Williams, a writer who is part of the New America think tank:

Just learned if you phrase the question:

Should convicts be ALLOWED to study for the GED and pursue a college education? most Americans will respond: No

If you say: Should convicts be FORCED to study for the GED and pursue a college education? most Americans will respond: Yes
Which is pretty messed up, as Williams obviously also thought, or he wouldn't have put it out on Twitter.

I know how I would have answered the first of those questions, but I have no idea what I would have said to the second one. Forced? Education as if it was a punishment? What? I wouldn't even know what to do with that.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

As when students say “He made us read x, y, and z.”

There’s a great example about questions from Neil Postman: Ask the pope if it’s permissible to smoke while praying: no, because prayer should be the focus. Ask if it’s permissible to pray while smoking: yes, it’s always appropriate to pray.