Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Generally specific

In my post yesterday, I cited a Gallup Poll that asked people "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?"

I was intrigued when I noticed that the top answer was "the economy in general".  Other top answers included unemployment, the deficit, lack of money, poverty and taxes.  This interested me because if I told you I was concerned about the economy, I would have been talking about all of those things.  I decided to take a closer look at the methodology for the survey (it's a PDF at the bottom of the link above) and found that apparently this question is open ended, and then the results are grouped from there.

I thought this was interesting, because asking people like this lends itself to people getting general on you, with words that they have their own meaning for.  Someone worried about the economy could mean mostly unemployment, or mostly the deficit, or any combination of things.

This problem arises in polls with pre-programmed answers too.  People tend to gravitate towards the biggest possible categories when asked to pick a top concern.  It's good to remember this when hearing reports on what people care about.  It's always a good idea to look at the other options and see if their categories were more limiting.  We like to keep our options open.

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