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Asking About Numbers: Why and How

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

Stephen Ansolabehere
Department of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA e-mail:
Marc Meredith
Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA e-mail:
Erik Snowberg*
Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, and National Bureau of Economic Research
e-mail: (corresponding author)


Survey questions about quantities offer a number of advantages over more common qualitative questions. However, concerns about survey respondents' abilities to accurately report numbers have limited the use of quantitative questions. This article shows quantitative questions are feasible and useful for the study of economic voting. First, survey respondents are capable of accurately assessing familiar economic quantities, such as the price of gas. Second, careful question design—in particular providing respondents with benchmark quantities—can reduce measurement error due to respondents not understanding the scale on which more complex quantities, such as the unemployment rate, are measured. Third, combining quantitative and qualitative questions sheds light on where partisan bias enters economic assessments: in perceiving, judging, or reporting economic quantities.

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Copyright © The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology 

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Authors' note: We thank Mike Alvarez, Conor Dowling, Ray Duch, Jon Eguia, Ken Scheve, Emily Thorson, and Chris Wlezien for encouragement and suggestions, and seminar audiences at Columbia, MIT, MPSA, NYU, Temple, Wharton, and Yale for useful feedback and comments. Replication data may be found in Ansolabehere, Meredith, and Snowberg (2012). Supplementary Materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis Web site.


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