Survey Questionnaire Wording and Interpretation: Implications for Policymakers

The ultimate success of natural resource decision-making depends upon knowledge gathered from several sources; e.g. biological data, institutional values and beliefs, and human dimensions information from affected constituents. Handfishing for catfish has been at the forefront of Missouri conservation since 2000. To determine the acceptability of handfishing to Missouri anglers we conducted a survey of licensed anglers in 2004. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of survey question wording on angler response and the potential for different policy outcomes resulting from the different wording. We designed two versions of a survey to gauge angler support for legalizing handfishing and to determine what impact, if any, different question wording had on levels of support for handfishing. Version 1 resulted in a 33% level of support for legalizing handfishing, while Version 2 resulted in 50% support. While both questions were designed to inform the same decision process, they elicited a different response distribution. While it is widely recognized that questionnaire wording affects response distribution, researchers continue to ask questions that can, at best, provide somewhat misleading findings, and, at worst, lead to erroneous policy outcomes.

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