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Should We Worry About Sponsorship-Induced Bias in Online Political Science Surveys?

  • Thomas J. Leeper (a1) and Emily A. Thorson (a2)


Political scientists rely heavily on survey research to gain insights into public attitudes and behaviors. Over the past decade, survey data collection has moved away from personal face-to-face and telephone interviewing towards a model of computer-assisted self-interviewing. A hallmark of many online surveys is the prominent display of the survey’s sponsor, most often an academic institution, in the initial consent form and/or on the survey website itself. It is an open question whether these displays of academic survey sponsorship could increase total survey error. We measure the extent to which sponsorship (by a university or marketing firm) affects data quality, including satisficing behavior, demand characteristics, and socially desirable responding. In addition, we examine whether sponsor effects vary depending on the participant’s experience with online surveys. Overall, we find no evidence that response quality is affected by survey sponsor or by past survey experience.



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Citation of data: Authorship is equal and listed alphabetically. This paper was previously presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. Thanks to Brad Jones for helpful feedback. The data, code, and any additional materials required to replicate all analyses in this article are available at the Journal of Experimental Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at doi:10.7910/DVN/KKFS8Y.



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Should We Worry About Sponsorship-Induced Bias in Online Political Science Surveys?

  • Thomas J. Leeper (a1) and Emily A. Thorson (a2)


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