PollPapa Team
04 03 2023

Identifying Biased Polls (Part Two)

Welcome to part two of our series on recognizing biased polls. If you missed part one, you can read it here. In this article, we will continue uncovering manipulative methods used in biased polls and surveys.

LOADED LANGUAGE Using emotionally charged or inflammatory language in questions or response options can skew the results. For example, “Do you support the patriotic policy of banning all foreign imports to protect American jobs?” implies that opposing the ban is unpatriotic and may lead respondents to choose the answer that is framed as the more patriotic option.

In politics, loaded language can be used to sway public opinion in favor of a particular candidate or party. For example, a biased question might ask, “Do you support candidate X, who is dedicated to fighting for the working class, or candidate Y, who is only interested in protecting the wealthy elite?”

In marketing, loaded language can be used to influence consumer behavior. For instance, a biased survey might ask, “Would you rather buy a high-quality, premium product or a cheap, low-quality product?” This question primes the respondent to view the high-quality product in a positive light, while denigrating the low-quality product.

Loaded language is also often used in surveys related to social issues, such as immigration or gun control. A biased question might ask, “Do you support open borders, which would allow terrorists and criminals to flood into our country, or do you support strong border control to protect our citizens?” This question uses loaded language to associate open borders with negative outcomes, while presenting strong border control as the only viable solution.

In order to avoid being manipulated by loaded language in polls and surveys, it’s important to look for neutral, unbiased versions of questions. For example, a neutral version of the political question might ask, “Which candidate do you support, and why?” This question allows respondents to express their views without being led toward a particular answer. Similarly, a neutral version of the marketing question might ask, “What factors do you consider when making purchasing decisions?” This question allows respondents to consider a range of factors beyond just price and quality.

Recognizing Manipulation: A Guide to Identifying Biased Polls (Part Two)

ORDER EFFECTS The order in which questions are asked can influence the responses. For example, if a pollster asks about a certain political issue first and then asks about the respondent’s political affiliation, it may lead the respondent to answer based on the previous question.

So how would you react to a question like the following?

“Do you agree that abortion is murder, or do you believe that women should have the right to choose?” 

You’ve guessed right – this question creates an order effect by suggesting that the respondent should choose between a pro-life or pro-choice position.

Unbiased version: “What is your opinion on abortion? Do you believe it should be legally prohibited, or do you believe women should have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion?” This question eliminates the order effect by presenting both options equally and without suggesting a preference.

“Do you support the current president’s policies, or do you believe that they are leading the country down the wrong path?”

By framing the question in this way, it assumes that the respondent has already formed an opinion on the president’s policies and forces them to choose between supporting or opposing them. This can influence the respondent’s answer, even if they may have had a more nuanced view if the question had been phrased differently.

An unbiased, neutral version of the question could be: “What is your opinion on the current president’s policies?” This question is neutral and does not create an order effect. It allows the respondent to express their opinion without being influenced by the question’s wording.

“Do you support the current government’s plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, or do you believe that this will stifle economic growth?” 

This question creates an order effect by suggesting that the respondent should choose between supporting or opposing the tax increase. A neutral version of the question could be: “What is your opinion on the government’s plan to increase taxes on the wealthy?” This question is neutral and does not create an order effect.

A DOUBLE-BARREL QUESTION could be confused with the order effect technique but they are different. A double-barrel question is a type of biased question that asks two questions in one, which can lead to confusion or inaccurate responses. For example, “Do you want to save money and buy a new car or take a vacation?” This question combines two separate goals, saving money and making a major purchase or taking a vacation, into one question. It is possible that the respondent believes one goal is more important than the other, leading to an inaccurate response.

SAMPLING BIAS If the poll only surveys a certain group of people or a non-representative sample, it can produce biased results that do not reflect the broader population.

Exit polls in the 2000 US presidential election: During the 2000 presidential election, early exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool (NEP) suggested that Democratic candidate Al Gore had won the state of Florida. However, the final vote count showed that Republican candidate George W. Bush had won by a narrow margin. This discrepancy was due in part to sampling bias in the exit polls, which oversampled women and minorities, who tended to favor Gore.

Gallup poll on African American support for segregation: In the 1950s, Gallup conducted polls that claimed to show high levels of support among African Americans for racial segregation. However, these polls were biased due to the fact that many African Americans were afraid to express their true opinions to pollsters, or were not given the opportunity to participate in the surveys.

Brexit referendum polls: In the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK, several polls predicted that the “Remain” side would win by a comfortable margin. However, the actual result was a narrow victory for the “Leave” side. One factor that contributed to this discrepancy was sampling bias, as some polls oversampled younger, more educated, and urban voters who tended to support “Remain”.

Scottish independence referendum polls: In the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, polls consistently showed the “No” side ahead. However, the actual result was much closer, with the “No” side winning by a margin of just over 10%. Some polls suffered from sampling bias, as they oversampled older and wealthier voters who tended to support “No”.

Ultimately, the careful selection of clear and neutral language, avoiding any form of leading or loaded words, and using specific questions that avoid ambiguity or double-barrel phrasing will significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of the data collected. After all, the integrity of the survey data is critical to decision-making processes, policy-making, and problem-solving. By being mindful of the way we ask questions, we can create a more open and respectful dialogue with those around us. So not only does creating unbiased survey questions lead to more accurate data, but it can also improve our communication skills with those around us. So next time you find yourself chatting with a friend or family member, try applying those unbiased question skills and watch the conversation flow effortlessly.

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