Why do polls use "heading in the right direction" vs "on the wrong track?"
October 28, 2005 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Why is the polling question framed "Headed in the right direction" versus "On the wrong track?"

It seems to me that political polls regularly use the right direction/wrong track question. I know they put considerable effort into not biasing the questions, and the phrasing must be intentional. But the given options don't seem diametrically opposed to me - rather, "direction" is analog and "track" is digital. Furthermore, I see the need for an question to gauge the respondant's overall perception, but why do pollsters use this exact phrase each time, spanning many so many poll topics? Is this a meta-poll question to cross correlate the answers to life, the universe, and everything?
posted by Triode to Law & Government (8 answers total)
They both sound leading to me. I work for a market research firm and most of our political polls tend to ask questions from a positive perspective (something I never understood). Just the name of the game I guess.
posted by panoptican at 10:58 AM on October 28, 2005

It's normally phrased like: "Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?" By definition, they're in opposition.

Pollsters use the same questions because trends are much more valuable than individual data points.
posted by smackfu at 11:06 AM on October 28, 2005

I got polled the other day, and the question was phrased along the lines of "how strongly do you agree or disagree with the statement, 'this country is headed in the right direction'?"
posted by scody at 11:45 AM on October 28, 2005

One could be on the right track heading in the wrong direction, or on the wrong track heading in the right direction. But if the track's not taking you where you should be going then in what sense is it the right track? I guess it might come in handy if you want to distinguish between people who like the principle of the decisions being made, but not the results, or vice versa. (A decision that makes everyone happier about the Iraq war by killing all the protesters -- right direction, wrong track. A decision to play hands-off with Rwandan genoicide, wrong direction, potentially right track.)

I guess in American polls we tend to conflate principles and results (a strong pragmatic streak), and when you do that they are diametrically opposed.
posted by ontic at 11:47 AM on October 28, 2005

But the given options don't seem diametrically opposed to me - rather, "direction" is analog and "track" is digital.

"Diametrically"? "Analog" vs. "digital"? You're not the kind of person pollsters want to reach.
posted by Eamon at 11:50 AM on October 28, 2005

You're not the kind of person pollsters want to reach.

Heh. I'm the same way. I've been polled a handful of times over the years, and I always wind up being unable to answer at least a few questions (and sometimes most of them) because either I disagree with the way certain questions are framed or my because the options for answers don't actually reflect my opinion. So irritatingly, I get lumped in the "undecided" or "unsure" column on those ones, when in fact I'm neither.

posted by scody at 12:06 PM on October 28, 2005

It depends who is doing the polling and who is paying them to do it. Some research organizations really do want to get as objective in their questioning as possible. But opinion polls are rarely meant to be that objective. Often opinion polls are conducted for organizations with a vested interest in a particular result, so the questions may be (intentionally or otherwise) framed to skew the results one particular way.
posted by raedyn at 12:22 PM on October 28, 2005

The question was developed a long time ago (decades, even). In order to maintain continuity and to be able to compare trendlines over the years, polling companies have to keep the wording the way it is, even though no one drafting a similar question today would use that language.

This was covered on an episode of the West Wing several years ago:
The question is asymmetrical.

That may be so, but the question originated 2 decades ago and has proven to be a consistent predictor of a voter's potential behavior. So it stays the way it is.
I don't know how accurate that quote is, but I assume The West Wing's research is fairly thorough, and it's probably informed by people who have actually worked with polls and complained about the wording of this question themselves.
posted by stopgap at 5:07 PM on October 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

« Older Maximize My Mullet   |   Money Saving Tips Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.