Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

  • Claire Adida (a1), Jessica Gottlieb (a2), Eric Kramon (a3) and Gwyneth McClendon (a4)

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.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All

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.

Hide All
Adida, Claire, Gottlieb, Jessica, Kramon, Eric and McClendon, Gwyneth. 2017. Breaking the clientelistic voting equilibrium: the joint importance of salience and coordination. AIDData Working Paper 48.
Adida, Claire L., Gottlieb, Jessica, Kramon, Eric and McClendon, Gwyneth. 2018. Replication Data for: Response Bias in Survey Measures of Voter Behavior: Implications for Measurement and Inference. Harvard Dataverse V3. (doi: 10.7910/DVN/CXWIPM).
Burden, Barry C. 2000. Voter Turnout and the National Election Studies. Political Analysis 8(4): 389–98.
Barton, Jared, Castillo, Marco and Petrie, Ragan. 2014. What Persuades Voters? A Field Experiment on Political Campaigning. The Economic Journal 124(574): F293F326
Belli, Robert F., Traugott, Michael W., Young, Margaret and McGonagle, Katherine A.. 1999. Reducing Vote Overreporting in Surveys: Social Desirability, Memory Failure, and Source Monitoring. The Public Opinion Quarterly 63(1): 90108.
Belli, Robert F., Moore, Sean E. and VanHoewyk, John. 2006. An Experimental Comparison of Question Forms used to Reduce Vote Overreporting. Electoral Studies 25(4): 751–9.
Broockman, David E., Kalla, Joshua L. and Sekhon, Jasjeet S.. 2017. The Design of Field Experiments with Survey Outcomes: A Framework for Selecting more Efficient, Robust, and Ethical Designs. Political Analysis 25(4): 435–64.
Clausen, Aage R. 1968. Response Validity: Vote Report. The Public Opinion Quarterly 32(4): 588606.
De LaO, Ana L. and Rodden, Jonathan A.. 2008. Does Religion Distract the Poor? Income and Issue Voting Around the World. Comparative Political Studies 41(4–5): 437–76.
Greene, Kenneth F. 2011. Campaign Persuasion and Nascent Partisanship in Mexico’s New Democracy. American Journal of Political Science 55(2): 398416.
Greenwald, Anthony G., Carnot, Catherine G., Beach, Rebecca and Young, Barbara. 1987. Increasing Voting Behavior by Asking People if they Expect to Vote. Journal of Applied Psychology 72(2): 315.
Holbrook, Allyson L. and Krosnick, Jon A.. 2010a. Measuring Voter Turnout by Using the Randomized Response Technique: Evidence Calling into Question the Method’s Validity. Public Opinion Quarterly 74(2) :328–43.
Holbrook, Allyson L. and Krosnick, Jon A.. 2010b. Social Desirability Bias in Voter Turnout Reports: Tests using the Item Count Technique. Public Opinion Quarterly 74(1): 3767.
Karp, Jeffrey A. and Brockington, David. 2005. Social Desirability and Response Validity: A Comparative Analysis of Overreporting Voter Turnout in Five Countries. The Journal of Politics 67(3): 825–40.
Morin-Chassé, Alexandre. 2018. How to Survey About Electoral Turnout? Additional Evidence. Journal of Experimental Political Science 5:14.
Mvukiyehe, Eric and Samii, Cyrus. 2017. Promoting Democracy in Fragile States: Field Experimental Evidence from Liberia. World Development 95: 254–67.
Nathan, Noah L. 2016. Local Ethnic Geography, Expectations of Favoritism, and Voting in Urban Ghana. Comparative Political Studies 49(14): 1896–929.
Silver, Brian D., Anderson, Barbara A. and Abramson, Paul R.. 1986. Who Overreports Voting? American Political Science Review 80(2): 613–24.
Zeglovits, Eva and Kritzinger, Sylvia. 2013. New Attempts to Reduce Overreporting of Voter Turnout and Their Effects. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 26(2): 224–34.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Experimental Political Science
  • ISSN: 2052-2630
  • EISSN: 2052-2649
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-experimental-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Adida et al. supplementary material
Adida et al. supplementary material 1

 Word (272 KB)
272 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed