Framing Matters: Why Polling and Market Research Are So Tricky

Ambinder points to a sort of surprising anomaly in a recent poll on gays in the military:  substantially more people support letting "Gays and lesbians" serve in the military than "homosexuals".  When I mentioned this to someone this morning, he cocked his head to the side and stood stock still for about five minutes, trying to wrap his brain around this.

But perhaps it's not that surprising, given everything else we know about framing effects. "Gays and lesbians" sound like people.  "Homosexuals" sound like a medical condition.  I'd bet you could get similar differences if you polled increased disability benefits for "schizophrenics" versus "people with a serious mental illness".  We like helping people.  But in general, we dislike helping groups. 

Hell, I bet tax increases on "the rich" poll better than tax increases on people who make more than $250,000 a year--and not only because the poll-ees who live in Manhattan tend to think of a quarter of a million dollars as scraping by on the edge of poverty.

The real question is:  which is a better approximation of the public's "true" opinion?  Obviously, if you support gay marriage, the temptation is to make the case for the more "people-like" option, but I could make a case for the other side.  Maybe a better question is whether there is any "true" opinion . . . or whether, as with Schroedinger's cat, the answer only comes into existance at the moment you actually ask the question.

Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Politics

Just In