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Response Bias in Survey Measures of Voter Behavior: Implications for Measurement and Inference

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2019

Claire Adida*
University of California, San Diego, CA, USA
Jessica Gottlieb
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA
Eric Kramon
George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
Gwyneth McClendon
New York University, New York, NY, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:


This short report exploits a unique opportunity to investigate the implications of response bias in survey questions about voter turnout and vote choice in new democracies. We analyze data from a field experiment in Benin, where we gathered official election results and panel survey data representative at the village level, allowing us to directly compare average outcomes across both measurement instruments in a large number of units. We show that survey respondents consistently overreport turning out to vote and voting for the incumbent, and that the bias is large and worse in contexts where question sensitivity is higher. This has important implications for the inferences we draw about an experimental treatment, indicating that the response bias we identify is correlated with treatment. Although the results using the survey data suggest that the treatment had the hypothesized impact, they are also consistent with social desirability bias. By contrast, the administrative data lead to the conclusion that the treatment had no effect.

Short Report
© The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2019 

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Support for this research was provided by the Evidence in Governance and Politics Metaketa I. The data, code, and any additional materials required to replicate all analyses in this article (Adida et al. 2018) are available at the Journal of Experimental Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at: This study is part of the larger Metaketa initiative to accumulate knowledge about the relationship between information and accountability across country contexts. We thank Amanda Pinkston for sharing 2011 legislative election data and Ana Quiroz and Charles Hintz for excellent research assistance. This research was conducted in collaboration with the Centre de Promotion de la Démocratie et du Développement (CEPRODE), and we thank Adam Chabi Bouko for leading the implementation effort. Our project received ethics approval from the authors’ home institutions. We also obtained permission to conduct the study from the President of the National Assembly of Benin. In each study village, permission to conduct research was obtained from the chief and consent was obtained from each surveyed participant in the study. The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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