Pew again asks for one-word survey responses regarding budget negotiations

I highlighted this survey technique in April but here it is again: Pew asked Americans to provide a one-word response to Congress’ debt negotiations.

Asked for single-word characterizations of the budget negotiations, the top words in the poll — conducted in the days before an apparent deal was struck — were “ridiculous,” “disgusting” and “stupid.” Overall, nearly three-quarters of Americans offered a negative word; just 2 percent had anything nice to say.

“Ridiculous” was the most frequently mentioned word among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. It was also No. 1 in an April poll about the just-averted government shutdown. In the new poll, the top 27 words are negative ones, with “frustrating,” “poor,” “terrible,” “disappointing,“ “childish,” “messy” and “joke” rounding out the top 10.

And then we are presented a word cloud.

On the whole, I think this technique can suggest that Americans have generally unfavorable responses. But the reliance on particular terms is better for headlines than it is for collecting data. What would happen if public responses were split more evenly: what words/responses would then be used to summarize the data? The Washington Post headline (and Pew Research as well) can now use forceful and emotional words like “ridiculous” and “disgusting” rather than the more accurate numerical figures than about “three-quarters of Americans offered a negative word.” Why not also include an ordinal question (strongly disapprove to strongly approve) about American’s general opinion of debt negotiations in order to corroborate this open ended question?

This is a possibly interesting technique in order to take advantage of open ended questions without allowing respondents to give possibly lengthy responses. Open ended questions can produce a lot of data: there were over 330 responses in this survey alone. I’ll be interested to see if other organizations adopt this approach.

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