Americans Assume Based on Regional Accents

January 27, 2011

harris-accents-jan-2011.JPGAmericans tend to make assumptions about a person based on their regional or national accent, according to results of a new Harris Poll. Survey respondents were asked to rate various US regional accents, as well as a generic British accent, on how likely the speaker is to possess certain attributes.

The Southern accent led in the percentage of respondents saying they tend to think the speaker is nice (49%) and uneducated (38%), while the Midwestern accent was tops in honest (39%). The New York City accent held a sizable lead in respondents thinking the speaker is dishonest (34%) and rude (51%).

Meanwhile, the British accent scored highest in intelligent (37%), well-educated (39%) and sophisticated (47%). Interestingly, the New England accent held a small lead in not being selected for any of the listed attributes (22%).

Americans Prefer Own Accents

When asked about various attributes, Americans living in the East, Midwest and South all give more flattering responses about the accents from their areas than do adults from elsewhere. Adults award accents from their own area more positive descriptions and fewer negative ones, than adults from other areas do.

For example:

  • Southerners think that speakers with Southern accents are nice (59%) and honest (45%) more often than those from the West (42% and 28%), East (44% and 29%) and Midwest (45% and 31%) do;
  • While just more than one in 10 adults think that speakers with a New York City accent are intelligent (12%), a higher percentage (18%) of those in the East say this, compared to fewer in the Midwest (12%), West (11%) and South (10%) who say the same;
  • Similarly, one in six Easterners say those with a New York City accent are honest (16%), compared to very few in other regions who agree (between 4% and 6%);
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, although most adults think speakers with New York City accents are rude (51%), only 46% of Easterners agree, compared to more Midwesterners (54%), Southerners (54%) and Westerners (48%) who say this; and,
  • More than half of Midwesterners (55%) say someone with a Midwestern accent is nice compared to 42% of Westerners, 36% of Easterners and just 31% of Southerners who say this.

Accent May Influence Job Prospects

harris-accents-jobs-jan-2011.JPGWhen asked if four equally qualified applicants for a certain job were only differentiated by their accent, two in five adults (39%) say that the applicant with the Midwestern accent would get the job. However, 63% of Midwesterners say this compared to between 41% and 21% of adults from the other regions who do.

With regard to other regions, a quarter of Easterners say the job would go to the person with the New England accent (26%) compared to fewer adults from elsewhere who agree (between 17% and 9%).

One in five Easterners (19%) also say it would go to the New Yorker (compared to between 14% and 7% of those from other areas), and one in five Southerners (18%) say it would go to their applicant, compared to very few adults from elsewhere who agree (between 7% and 3%). Easterners are also more likely than other regions to say the job would go to the person with the British accent (27%).

Midwest is Best Job Market and Improving

Hiring in the Midwest increased to 32% in November 2010 and firing fell to 17%, improving the region’s Job Creation Index to +15 from +11 in October 2010, according to a recent Gallup poll. This reflects both the largest increase and the best job-creation conditions of any region tracked by Gallup.

Continued improvements in the manufacturing sector as well as for farm and other commodities have produced a sharp rise in job market conditions in this region from the +1 hiring-firing gap of November 2009 and the +2 of November 2008.

About the Data: This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States December 6 and 13, 2010 among 2,331 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

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