How much does wording matter in a political poll?
Quite a bit, it turns out, when the word is “Trump.”
In a new survey, conducted by YouGov for NBCLX, American citizens — across most age, gender, and ideological groups — were largely split as to whether President Biden should have re-appointed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, tasked with managing America’s inflation rate, earlier this year.
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However, when the exact same question was asked of a nearly-identical panel — only with the added information that Powell was first appointed by former President Trump — Republican respondents were nearly three times as likely to support his re-appointment, while Democratic respondents were nearly twice as likely to oppose it.
“[Former President] Trump is so polarizing among members of both major parties that Democrats are likely to oppose anything or anyone associated with him, while Republicans are likely to support anything with his name attached,” said Carl Bialik, U.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science for YouGov America.
YouGov found nearly identical levels of support among Democrats and Republicans for President Biden’s re-appointment of Powell (22% and 23%, respectively) when respondents were not told the Fed Chair was initially appointed by the former president.
Identical 25% shares of both Democrats and Republicans opposed the re-appointment when asked the same question. More than half of all Americans responded they were not sure.
But when a different panel was asked the same question — only with former President Trump’s name included — just 15% of Democrats supported Powell’s re-appointment, compared with 46% who opposed it. And 63% of Republicans said they supported re-appointing the Trump nominee, with just 5% opposing it.
Bialik said additional tests would be necessary to determine specific motivations, but the survey shows views on Trump are not as likely to split Democrats and Republicans when they aren’t familiar with the partisan connections.
Powell, first appointed to a four-year term atop the Federal Reserve by Trump toward the end of 2017, was re-appointed by President Biden toward the end of 2021.
Assigning Blame on Gas Prices
YouGov also ran an experiment with two similarly-worded questions, asking 500 Americans whom they blame the most for rising gas prices in the United States, and a comparable panel whom they blame the most for rising gas prices in the United States and Europe.
This time, the addition of two words did not dramatically alter the results.
With — or without — information about European gas price hikes, Americans were more likely to blame President Biden for the prices than any other option.
A plurality of Americans (39% when told about Europe; 40% when not) pointed the finger at Biden, instead of oil companies (23% when told about Europe; 27% when not), Russian President Vladimir Putin (20% when told about Europe; 18% when not), or Saudi Arabia (2% when told about Europe; 3% when not).
However, Democrats who were told of rising prices in Europe were less likely to blame President Biden (10%) than those were were not (16%). At least 80% of Republicans chose the president, both with and without the mention of European prices.
Overall, older Americans and white Americans were more likely to blame Biden than younger Americans or Americans of color.
“The wording of questions — and including or withholding information — can sometimes have a significant effect,” Bialik said. “But it depends on what that information is, how many people already know it, and how likely people are to be swayed by it.”
YouGov surveyed 1,000 adult citizens between April 8 and April 11, with a +/- 3.5% margin of error for the entire poll.
Noah Pransky is NBCLX’s National Political Editor. He covers Washington and state politics for NBCLX, and his investigative work has been honored with national Murrow, Polk, duPont, and Cronkite awards. You can contact him confidentially at email@example.com or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.