Americans Like People Who Speak Like They Do

    New York, N.Y. – January 26, 2011 – Accents are a funny thing. Certain ones prompt stereotypes, which might be why people often deny having an accent. Yet, 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.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,331 adults surveyed online between December 6 and 13, 2010 by Harris Interactive®.

    When asked to think about hearing various accents half of adults say they think speakers with a Southern accent are nice (49%), two in five say the same for speakers with a Midwest accent (40%), one in five say those with a British accent or New England accent are nice (19% and 18%, respectively) while less than one in ten say so for speakers with a New York City accent (7%).

    Half of adults also think those with a British accent are sophisticated (47%)-far more than adults say so for any other accent (between 20% for New England accents, down to 6% for Southern accents). And, while half of adults think that speakers with New York City accents are rude (51%), very few adults say the same for any other accent listed (between 14% and 4%).

    Regional Differences

    Despite speakers sometimes denying their regional accent, 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 over one in ten 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%); and
    • 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.

    This pattern continues as Midwesterners say that speakers with a Midwest accent are well-educated, intelligent, nice and honest more frequently than adults from other regions say the same. In fact, over 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.

    Does this matter?

    Americans cheerleading for their own regional accents is not limited to complimentary adjectives-U.S. adults think that their accents would actually beat out the others in a competitive job market. When 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%).

    So What?

    Although TV news and other media personalities often work to overcome distinctive regional accents, it doesn’t seem that local inflections are bothersome, at least not to an audience from that area. However, it might be interesting if speakers are skilled enough to play up their accent, or not, depending on their situation – it appears there may be circumstances where a different style of pronunciation could work well to one’s advantage.


     

    TABLE 1

    ACCENT ATTRIBUTES

    When you hear each of the following accents, do you tend to think the speaker is…?

    Base: All adults

    Southern accent

    British accent

    New York City accent

    Midwest accent

    New England accent

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Nice

    49

    19

    7

    40

    18

    Un-educated

    38

    2

    14

    10

    4

    Honest

    34

    13

    7

    39

    16

    Intelligent

    9

    37

    12

    21

    27

    Well-educated

    8

    39

    12

    18

    31

    Dishonest

    7

    5

    34

    3

    7

    Sophisticated

    6

    47

    13

    8

    20

    Rude

    6

    11

    51

    4

    14

    None of these

    18

    18

    20

    21

    22

    NA – I don’t hear this accent

    8

    14

    12

    16

    17

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 2

    ACCENT ATTRIBUTES – SOUTHERN

    When you hear each of the following accents, do you tend to think the speaker is…?

    Summary of Southern accent

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Region

    East

    Midwest

    South

    West

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Nice

    49

    44

    45

    59

    42

    Un-educated

    38

    40

    46

    32

    38

    Honest

    34

    29

    31

    45

    28

    Intelligent

    9

    8

    7

    13

    8

    Well-educated

    8

    9

    4

    11

    7

    Dishonest

    7

    8

    8

    6

    8

    Sophisticated

    6

    8

    3

    7

    5

    Rude

    6

    5

    4

    7

    7

    None of these

    18

    21

    14

    18

    20

    NA – I don’t hear this accent

    8

    10

    10

    6

    9

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 3

    ACCENT ATTRIBUTES – NEW YORK CITY

    When you hear each of the following accents, do you tend to think the speaker is…?

    Summary of New York City accent

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Region

    East

    Midwest

    South

    West

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Rude

    51

    46

    54

    54

    48

    Dishonest

    34

    29

    36

    35

    33

    Un-educated

    14

    15

    11

    15

    14

    Sophisticated

    13

    15

    13

    14

    10

    Well-educated

    12

    15

    13

    12

    10

    Intelligent

    12

    18

    12

    10

    11

    Nice

    7

    12

    6

    4

    9

    Honest

    7

    16

    5

    4

    6

    None of these

    20

    22

    15

    18

    24

    NA – I don’t hear this accent

    12

    11

    15

    12

    10

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 4

    ACCENT ATTRIBUTES – MIDWEST

    When you hear each of the following accents, do you tend to think the speaker is…?

    Summary of Midwest accent

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Region

    East

    Midwest

    South

    West

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Nice

    40

    36

    55

    31

    42

    Honest

    39

    33

    53

    34

    37

    Intelligent

    21

    12

    31

    20

    23

    Well-educated

    18

    11

    28

    15

    19

    Un-educated

    10

    14

    7

    11

    7

    Sophisticated

    8

    7

    11

    7

    6

    Rude

    4

    7

    2

    5

    3

    Dishonest

    3

    5

    2

    4

    2

    None of these

    21

    21

    15

    22

    24

    NA – I don’t hear this accent

    16

    19

    13

    17

    15

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 5

    ACCENTS OF JOB APPLICANTS

    If there were 4 people equally qualified for a certain job and the only different was their accent, do you think that the person with the following accent would get the job?

    Base: All adults

    Total

    Region

    East

    Midwest

    South

    West

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Mid-west accent

    39

    21

    63

    32

    41

    British accent

    22

    27

    17

    24

    21

    New England accent

    16

    26

    9

    15

    17

    New York city accent

    13

    19

    7

    11

    14

    Southern accent

    10

    7

    3

    18

    7

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

     

    Methodology

    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.

     

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    J39118

    Q855, 865

     

     

    The Harris Poll ® #10, January 26, 2011

    By Samantha Braverman, Senior Project Researcher, Harris Interactive

     

    About Harris Interactive

    Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.