The Power of Words, Social Welfare Edition

I was browsing through the 2018 General Social Survey again and happened to come across a pretty astounding example of how important question wording can be. Or, perhaps, how important words can be in general. GSS nerds will be unsurprised by this, but here’s how white people feel about helping the poor. It all depends on precisely how you ask:

This is a pretty astounding difference considering that welfare and assistance to the poor are pretty much the same thing. I’m tempted to say that the difference is that whites associate welfare with black families, but it turns out that African Americans show the same gap in attitudes toward the poor. In fact, the gap among African Americans is even bigger than it is for whites.

So how do people really feel about spending on safety net programs? It’s impossible to say. I doubt very much that 70 percent of whites are truly in favor of spending more, but I also doubt very much that only 20 percent are truly in favor of spending more. I guess it all depends on how you sell it.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s also worth noting that these responses are completely divorced from actual spending levels. Spending on poor families has increased by about 300 percent since 1973, but the answer to these questions has stayed rock steady the entire time.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.