By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
In a scene from that great movie of the '80s, Ferris Beuller's Day Off, the economics teacher, played inimitably by Ben Stein, tries to engage a class of profoundly bored and unresponsive high school students:
In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the... Anyone? Anyone?... the Great Depression, passed the... Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered?... raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression.
Watching a recent practice voir dire, I was struck by the similarity. The attorney asked a string of "anyone" questions like, "Does anyone feel that corporations are more dishonest than other parties?" or "Does anyone believe that the fact that a lawsuit was filed means the defendant did something wrong?" And each in the series was met by absolute silence from the panel, with no volunteered answers or hands raised. It is a fact of life when trying to assess attitudes, but a small distinction in question wording can sometimes spell the difference between success and failure. And in this case, the problem is the same word that's annoyingly repeated by Bueller's teacher. Asking about "anyone" will generally limit the response and the usefulness of the question. This post unpacks the argument for avoiding "anyone" questions while also recommending some alternative ways to ask.