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A Simple Case of Overstatement


The beginning of a new year often marks a time for fresh starts and personal growth. According to a recent survey of 1,000 US adults (conducted Oct 23, 2023) on American’s attitudes and goals for resolution-setting, physical health resolutions topped the list for 2024. 

One popular resolution for 2024 was to stop smoking - according to the study, 12% of Americans intend to quit smoking as their New Year’s resolution. On the surface, that number seems reasonable - quitting smoking is a relatively popular goal amongst those looking to improve their health. 


Looking Closer at the Numbers

12% for New Year’s resolutions seems plausible, but let’s check solid external data: the CDC indicates that only 12% of Americans are current smokers. Does it mean that 100% of smokers have resolved to stop in 2024?

Not quite. It’s not reasonable to assume all smokers made that resolution. In fact, the National Cancer Institute has found that only 54% of all adult smokers have attempted to stop smoking in the past year.  

So how did the fallacious resolution number come about? Most likely, the New Year’s resolution survey has overstated the percentage of people who plan to quit smoking in 2024.  

Why the Discrepancy?

Some possible issues with the survey’s methodology and interpretation may factor into this disparity. 

Questionnaire design: As far as we can tell externally, the survey asked everyone, smokers and non-smokers alike, if they intended to stop smoking. In that case, some non-smokers might click the “stop smoking” box too. Showing relevant items to relevant individuals is critical to ensure accurate data.

Social desirability: Smokers filling out the survey may not have made the resolution to quit previously. But it is hard to admit when faced with the question suggesting it is a good idea to stop to say you actively intend not to. Social desirability bias may result in a higher percentage of people reporting they plan to stop smoking, even if they do not, due to the perception that quitting smoking is a socially commendable goal. The question formulation - for example, asking about resolutions taken between the 1st of Jan and yesterday (aiming to capture a time before the survey) - might correct part of this bias with more appropriate wording.

Avoiding Overstatement With IntelliSurvey

Accurate information is crucial to make informed, reliable decisions based on your survey data. At IntelliSurvey, we partner with our clients to understand the goals of each study at the outset, allowing us to advise on methodology, questionnaire design, recommended sample size, sample sourcing, and more.

With over two decades of experience providing survey programming and market research services, our expertise can ensure you obtain meaningful and accurate insights. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you achieve your goals. 

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