Assessing the Effect of Social Desirability on Nativism Attitude Responses

37 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 16 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011


Scholars attempting to measure and analyze public opinion attitudes toward racial minorities are often faced with the “social desirability” problem. This is because those who have prejudiced racial attitudes are rarely willing to admit such opinions to public opinion surveyors. Thus, they may be more likely to give an answer that is seen to be socially acceptable or politically correct, rather than an answer which accurately reflects their attitudes. While this phenomenon has been clearly established and examined in studies relating to attitudes racial public policy preferences that affect African Americans, it is less clear how the “social desirability” problem may affect attitude responses dealing with racial public policy preferences affecting Latinos and especially Latino immigrants. This paper seeks to address this question by analyzing the extent to which social desirability may affect survey responses on questions dealing with perceived levels of cultural threat (nativism). Results suggest that social desirability is indeed a concern for researchers studying cultural threat and its effect on immigration policy attitudes, but that it exerts an opposite effect from what conventional wisdom would predict and what has previously been observed in other areas.

Keywords: nativism, social desirability, immigration, public opinion, list experiment

Suggested Citation

Knoll, Benjamin R., Assessing the Effect of Social Desirability on Nativism Attitude Responses (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Benjamin R. Knoll (Contact Author)

Centre College ( email )

600 West Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422
United States

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