What’s In A Name? Question Wording and Answer Patterns

DussehrANames matter, a lot. Not just for people, but for ideas, projects, and programs as well. From a psychological perspective, there are a lot of reasons why this is the case. For example, the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion predicts that when a person isn’t exerting the effort to really evaluate something, their opinion will be more influenced by simple associations–like whether a name has positive or negative meanings to the person.

Examples of how names really influence people’s responses to ideas abound. One example of how labels influence public perception comes from a piece of legislation whose official name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. You probably call it either the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, and your attitude toward it is probably different depending on the name you use. Jimmy Kimmel showed this to humorous effect:

Poll data consistently shows that you can influence how many people say they approve of the health care reform by calling it ACA versus Obamacare.

What should you take away from this? First, when interpreting data from polls or surveys, it is SO important to know exactly how the question asked was worded. Choice of words or names of ideas can subtly or significantly influence responses. Second, when asking questions, think carefully about how you phrase them. Are you looking for a “true” pulse on public opinion? Are you trying to elicit a certain type of response for marketing or promotional purposes? Your objective will influence the choices you make about the questions you ask.