Framing the Wall Street "bailout"

Polling on the Wall Street financial crisis has some hidden lessons about the effects of question wording and framing. Pollsters and news editors love to use the word “bailout” when they write headlines for their press releases and news stories.

“57% of Public Favors Wall Street Bailout,” according to the Pew Research Center on September 22.

“Only 28% Support Federal Bailout Plan,” according to Rasmussen Reports on September 22.

“Do You Support The Financial Bailout?” asks WKRG news, for a September 26 story based on a SurveyUSA poll.

Now, pollsters don’t love the connotation-laden term when they ask voters for their opinions about what’s going on in Congress, since it dramatically alters the question’s frame.

“As you may know, the government is potentially investing billions to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure. Do you think this is the right thing or the wrong thing for the government to be doing?” asked Pew, and a majority said it is the right thing.

“Do you favor or oppose the proposal for the federal government to purchase up to $700 billion in assets from finance companies?” asked Rasmussen, and 72 percent opposed of didn’t know enough to answer.

“Do you support or oppose the specific rescue plan that the government has worked out? Or do you not yet know enough yet to say?” asked Survey USA, and 84 percent of people opposed or didn’t know enough to answer.

One person does use bailout for a poll question. Who? The unscientific pollster Bill O’Reilly who asks his viewers “Would you vote for the bailout package?” So far, 81 percent have said no.