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
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: Suggested Citation