Avoiding leading questions

The concept of leading questions isn't confined to market research. We all have some idea of what a leading question is. When designed questionnaires, it's important we avoid them.

A leading question is one where the answer is suggested within the question. An example is shown below:

 

Torquay is one of the sunniest seaside resorts in the United Kingdom. Would you consider going to Torquay for a holiday?

 

The first sentence in this question creates a positive impression of Torquay and may influence responses to the question. Leaving out the first sentence and just asking “Would you consider going to Torquay for a holiday” would remove this bias. As researchers, we are striving for questions to be neutral so that responses give us a true read of opinion.

 

Hull City Football Club

 

The use of a leading question has recently been in the news. The owner of Hull City Football Club, Assem Allam, wants to change the name of the club to Hull Tigers as he thinks this will be commercially beneficial. A lot of fans are opposed to the move but Mr Allam has threatened to walk away from the club, taking his considerable financial backing with him, if he doesn’t get his way.

Just before the Football Association (FA) made a decision about whether or not to approve the name change the club polled their adult season ticket holders asking them to choose one of the following options:

 

Yes to Hull Tigers with the Allam family continuing to lead the club

No to Hull Tigers

I am not too concerned and will continue to support the club either way

 

The poll therefore didn't concentrate on the single issue of a name change, it also made sure that supporters were aware that the Allam family were threatening to remove their financial support for the club. The question is therefore leading and appears to be a fairly unsophisticated attempt to secure a “Yes” vote.

The tactic worked, just, with 2565 voting for and 2517 against. However, the majority of season ticket holders didn’t even take part in the poll.

Instead of providing firm evidence that the supporters were in favour of the name change, this poll was easy to discredit. Presenting results from leading questions damages your credibility and can devalue whole research programmes as stakeholders’ trust in results is undermined.

The FA have since met and rejected the club’s request to change name. It remains to be seen whether Mr Allam follows through on this threat to walk away.

 

Scottish Independence

 

One event later this year where question wording will be critical is the referendum on Scottish Independence which takes place in September.

The question that will be used for the referendum has already been changed. The original wording is shown below:

 

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

Yes

No

 

The Electoral Commission suggested that the wording be changed. They felt that the word “agree” in the question could suggest a positive response. The Scottish government has since agreed to change the question to that shown below, using as neutral language as possible.

 

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Yes

No

 

The course of a country’s future can therefore be potentially affected by questionnaire wording. Avoiding leading questions is key to maintaining the integrity of your research.

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