Inference from Biased Polls

54 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2020 Last revised: 15 Dec 2020

See all articles by Andy Brownback

Andy Brownback

University of Arkansas

Nathaniel Burke

University of Arkansas

Tristan Gagnon-Bartsch

Harvard University

Date Written: December 14, 2020

Abstract

Poll respondents often attempt to present a positive image by overstating virtuous behaviors. We examine whether people account for this "socially desirable responding" (SDR) when drawing inferences from poll data. In an experiment, we incentivize "predictors" to guess others' choice behaviors for actions with varying social desirability. To aid their guesses, predictors observe random subsamples of either (i) actual choice behavior or (ii) hypothetical claims from unincentivized polls. Predictors show reasonable skepticism towards hypothetical claims, which exhibit predictable SDR. However, their skepticism is not appropriately tailored to the direction or magnitude of SDR. This under-correction for SDR occurs even though subjects can accurately predict which behaviors are most prone to SDR when explicitly asked.

Keywords: Polling, Social Desirability, Updating, Signaling, Selection Bias

JEL Classification: D91, D84, D72

Suggested Citation

Brownback, Andy and Burke, Nathaniel and Gagnon-Bartsch, Tristan, Inference from Biased Polls (December 14, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3695115 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3695115

Andy Brownback (Contact Author)

University of Arkansas ( email )

Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

Nathaniel Burke

University of Arkansas ( email )

Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

Tristan Gagnon-Bartsch

Harvard University ( email )

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