It is well known that the sequence in which questions are asked in a survey can affect answers as earlier questions can influence the frame of mind in which a respondent answers a subsequent question. An illustration of this can be found in the BBC comedy series Yes Minister.

My question is whether there has been any research into whether the wording of official surveys affects opinions in the longer term.

For example, if a respondent to an official survey such as a census is presented with a ethnicity question in the form of one large box entitled White containing tickbox options such as British, English, and Welsh, next to another large box entitled Non-white containing other options none of which is British, English, and Welsh then that will obviously (all other things being equal) increase the number of "white" people who choose English in that particular survey and decrease the number of "non-White" people who choose English in that particular survey even if other (please specify) write in options are freely available.

But has there been any research into the longer-term effect of such surveys? Does the frequent asking of the question in this way actually change perceptions of what is meant by English so as to cause some people to shift their viewpoint and start to believe that the term English as an ethnicity is limited to "white" people?

  • $\begingroup$ I think there might be something to this, but it may get a better answer in the psychology stack $\endgroup$
    – Pete W
    Dec 2, 2021 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ Since this is primarily asking about survey methodology and how their structure influences respondents, I think it's indeed better suited for psychology. I'll migrate it there as I don't think there's a distinct link with politics. $\endgroup$
    – JJJ
    Dec 3, 2021 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ @JJJ I think you have misunderstood the question. $\endgroup$
    – Nemo
    Dec 3, 2021 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ You're right, the way I understand it now, you're asking how wording in surveys affects the broader population's understanding of terminology. Seeing that the original was tagged [demographics] and [psychology] I didn't think you were asking specifically about the UK example specifically. I still think this is mostly psychological: how do people perceive survey wording (as a participant or when they see the results)? $\endgroup$
    – JJJ
    Dec 3, 2021 at 23:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd say the UK example (or any specific example) is more political. The general question seems to me more about human behavior (and you could apply it to non-political marketing as well). For example, the long term effect of the wording of cattle vs. animals, cow vs. beef and pig vs. pork could be studied in the same spirit as this question (though survey might then be replaced with ad campaign). Of course that wording can become a political issue, but the effects of the wording are psychological. $\endgroup$
    – JJJ
    Dec 3, 2021 at 23:49


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