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Words Matter

April 8, 2016

Ever notice that when someone is trying to sell you something, they recommend that you “invest in” rather than “buy” it? That’s not by accident. Investing sounds responsible and forward thinking.Buying or spending might sound careless or wasteful.

Smart leaders know that two words that basically mean the same thing can have varying effects on their audiences.

We tested this ourselves earlier this year when we conducted our January Werth Poll of Ohio voters. We asked one of our questions using different language for different respondents to see if we would get a variance in the response.

We weren’t surprised when we did.

Half of our surveyed voters were asked whether they would “vote for or against a ballot measure that legalizes marijuana for private use.” Sixty-one percent said they would vote against that.

The other half were asked the same question, but with the word “recreational” substituted for “private.” In this group, more than 66 percent were against the proposal.

Recreational creates a distinct image of people getting high for fun. Private is distinctly nonjudgmental.

In this case, both subsets were opposed to the idea. But in many elections, a 5 percent swing can be the difference.

Words are powerful, and unlike most things in life, they are free. You don’t have to buy them. You don’t even have to invest in them.