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Don't like Wisians? // Join club

Published Jan. 9, 1992|Updated Jul. 6, 2006

Some people have a definite opinion about Wisian-Americans.

The trouble is: Wisians are a fictitious group, added by poll takers to a list of ethnic groups in order to test the respondents in a study of ethnic images in the United States.

To their credit, 61 percent of the respondents to the 1989 General Social Survey reported Tuesday did not feel able to rank the social standing of "Wisians."

But the rest did and, given the chance, they gave Wisians a relatively low average rating of 4.12 on a 9-point social scale, with 9 representing the highest standing.

Adding a fictitious entry to a list of items is a device used by poll takers to reveal how much attention respondents are paying, how informed people are, and _ in this case _ what stereotypes or assumptions they read into vague words or symbols.

Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, said, "My explanation for the low ranking is that people probably thought that if they were foreign-sounding, and they'd never heard of them, they couldn't be doing too well."

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