When Do Sensitive Survey Questions Elicit Truthful Answers? Theory and Evidence with Application to the RRT and the List Experiment

54 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2017 Last revised: 30 Sep 2017

Date Written: August 25, 2017

Abstract

Corruption, vote buying, and other sensitive topics are difficult to study because people tend to under-report them in surveys. The degree of under-reporting bias has been shown to vary across studies, contexts, and question structures, but no systematic explanation for the variation has been advanced. I provide a simple theory that describes conditions under which an individual is more - or less - likely to respond truthfully to a sensitive question. The theory is based on the intuition that respondents lie to avoid looking bad in the eyes of interviewers. The main implication is that a respondent's second-order beliefs about the interviewer's priors are a key determinant of truthfulness. Empirical analysis of original data supports this claim: respondent's second-order beliefs correlate strongly with self-reported nonvoting and cheating. I show how second-order beliefs can be used to adjust for under-reporting bias.

Keywords: survey research, social desirability bias, under-reporting, list experiment, randomized response technique, second-order beliefs

JEL Classification: C83, C99, Z10

Suggested Citation

Simpser, Alberto, When Do Sensitive Survey Questions Elicit Truthful Answers? Theory and Evidence with Application to the RRT and the List Experiment (August 25, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3032684 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3032684

Alberto Simpser (Contact Author)

ITAM ( email )

Rio Hondo 1
Mexico City, CDMX 01080
Mexico
+525556284000 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.albertosimpser.com

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