Welfare Polls: A Synthesis

94 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2006 Last revised: 21 Dec 2014

Date Written: January 27, 2010


Welfare polls are survey instruments that seek to quantify the determinants of human well-being. Currently, three welfare polling formats are dominant: contingent-valuation surveys, QALY surveys, and happiness surveys. Each format has generated a large, specialized, scholarly literature, but no comprehensive discussion of welfare polling as a general enterprise exists. This Article seeks to fill that gap.

Part I describes the trio of existing formats. Part II discusses the actual and potential uses of welfare polls in government decisionmaking. Part III analyzes in detail the obstacles that welfare polls must overcome to provide useful well-being information, and concludes that they can be genuinely informative. Part IV synthesizes the case for welfare polls, arguing against two types of challenges: the revealed-preference tradition in economics, which insists on using behavior rather than surveys to learn about well-being; and the civic-republican tradition in political theory, which accepts surveys but insists that respondents should be asked to take a citizen rather than consumer perspective. Part V suggests new directions for welfare polls.

Keywords: cost-benefit analysis, contingent valuation, QALY, happiness, well-being, survey, revealed preference, deliberative democracy

Suggested Citation

Adler, Matthew D., Welfare Polls: A Synthesis (January 27, 2010). New York University Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 6, pp. 1875, 2006; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 06-03; U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 06-06. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=885521 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.885521

Matthew D. Adler (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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