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Poll Questions

Here is a recent question on the Quinnipiac University 2016 Presdidential Swing State Poll:

Would you say xxxxxxxxx is honest and trustworthy or not?

The structure of a question is very important. What does the phrase “honest and trustworthy”  mean? Is there a difference between the words “honest” and “trustworthy?” The words are similar but different. Otherwise there would be no need for two words.

Can someone be honest and not trustworthy? Can you imagine anyone who is honest but not trustworthy? How about someone who is not honest but is trustworthy? 

If you have a close friend who is embezzling money from his/her company, can that friend still be trustworthy? How about a friend who is honest, but with whom you hesitate to share secrets? If you can think of examples, how would you answer the question, “Is xxxxxxxxx honest and trustworthy, or not?

Here are the dictionary definitions:

“Honest” means

  • free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere: I haven't been totally honest with you.
  •  morally correct or virtuous: I did the only right and honest thing.
  •  [ attrib. ] fairly earned, especially through hard work: struggling to make an honest living.
  •  (of an action) blameless or well intentioned even if unsuccessful or misguided: he'd made an honest mistake.
  • [ attrib. ] simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated: good honest food with no gimmicks

“Trustworthy” means

  • able to be relied on as honest or truthful: leave a spare key with a trustworthy neighbor.

So, we need to be very careful when we listen to or interpret polls. The wording of the questions can mean different things to different people. Thus, the results are suspicious.

I would much rather see this poll break down the questions to read:

Would you say  xxxxxxxxx is honest?

Would you say xxxxxxxxx is trustworthy?

Would you say xxxxxxxxx is not honest?

Would you say xxxxxxxxx is not trustworthy?

The question, "Would you say xxxxxxxxx is honest and trustworthy or not?" is a sloppily worded question. The results cannot be relied upon. In order to get the truth, structure your questions so they are simple, precise, and clearly understood. Anything short of that and you risk getting imprecise results.

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