Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Design of Field Experiments With Survey Outcomes: A Framework for Selecting More Efficient, Robust, and Ethical Designs

  • David E. Broockman (a1), Joshua L. Kalla (a2) and Jasjeet S. Sekhon (a3)

There is increasing interest in experiments where outcomes are measured by surveys and treatments are delivered by a separate mechanism in the real world, such as by mailers, door-to-door canvasses, phone calls, or online ads. However, common designs for such experiments are often prohibitively expensive, vulnerable to bias, and raise ethical concerns. We show how four methodological practices currently uncommon in such experiments have previously undocumented complementarities that can dramatically relax these constraints when at least two are used in combination: (1) online surveys recruited from a defined sampling frame (2) with at least one baseline wave prior to treatment (3) with multiple items combined into an index to measure outcomes and, (4) when possible, a placebo control. We provide a general and extensible framework that allows researchers to determine the most efficient mix of these practices in diverse applications. Two studies then examine how these practices perform empirically. First, we examine the representativeness of online panel respondents recruited from a defined sampling frame and find that their representativeness compares favorably to phone panel respondents. Second, an original experiment successfully implements all four practices in the context of a door-to-door canvassing experiment. We conclude discussing potential extensions.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Design of Field Experiments With Survey Outcomes: A Framework for Selecting More Efficient, Robust, and Ethical Designs
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Design of Field Experiments With Survey Outcomes: A Framework for Selecting More Efficient, Robust, and Ethical Designs
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Design of Field Experiments With Survey Outcomes: A Framework for Selecting More Efficient, Robust, and Ethical Designs
      Available formats
Corresponding author
* Email:
Hide All

Authors’ note: This paper previously circulated under the title “Testing Theories of Attitude Change With Online Panel Field Experiments.” Software for planning an experiment using all four practices we describe is available at Replication data is available as Broockman, Kalla, and Sekhon (2017), at This work was supported by the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, the Signatures Innovations Fellows program at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies, and the Office of Naval Research [N00014-15-1-2367]. The studies reported herein were approved by Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects. We thank participants at the 2015 POLMETH meeting and at the University of California, Berkeley’s Research Workshop in American Politics for helpful feedback. Additional feedback was provided by Peter Aronow, Rebecca Barter, Kevin Collins, Alex Coppock, Jamie Druckman, Thad Dunning, Donald Green, Christian Fong, Seth Hill, Dan Hopkins, Gabe Lenz, Winston Lin, Chris Mann, David Nickerson, Kellie Ottoboni, Kevin Quinn, Fredrik Sävje, Yotam Shev-Tom, Bradley Spahn, and Laura Stoker. All remaining errors are our own.

Contributing Editor: R. Michael Alvarez

Hide All
Adams William C., and Smith Dennis J.. 1980. Effects of telephone canvassing on turnout and preferences: A field experiment. Public Opinion Quarterly 44(3):389395.
Adida Claire, Gottlieb Jessica, Kramon Eric, and McClendon Gwyneth. 2016. How coethnicity moderates the effect of information on voting behavior: Experimental evidence from Benin. Working Paper.
Albertson Bethany, and Lawrence Adria. 2009. After the credits roll: The long-term effects of educational television on public knowledge and attitudes. American Politics Research 37(2):275300.
Angrist Joshua D. 1990. ERRATA: Lifetime earnings and the Vietnam era draft lottery: Evidence from social security administrative records. The American Economic Review 80(5):12841286.
Ansolabehere Stephen, Rodden Jonathan, and Snyder James M.. 2008. The strength of issues: Using multiple measures to gauge preference stability, ideological constraint, and issue voting. American Political Science Review 102:215232.
Arceneaux Kevin. 2007. I’m asking for your support: The effects of personally delivered campaign messages on voting decisions and opinion formation. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2(1):4365.
Arceneaux Kevin, and Nickerson David W.. 2010. Comparing negative and positive campaign messages: Evidence from two field experiments. American Politics Research 38(1):5483.
Arceneaux Kevin, and Kolodny Robin. 2009a. Educating the least informed: Group endorsements in a grassroots campaign. American Journal of Political Science 53(4):755770.
Arceneaux Kevin, and Kolodny Robin. 2009b. The effect of grassroots campaigning on issue preferences and issue salience. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 19(3):235249.
Bailey Michael A., Hopkins Daniel J., and Rogers Todd. 2016. Unresponsive, unpersuaded: The unintended consequences of voter persuasion efforts. Political Behavior 38(3):713746.
Barber Michael J., Canes-Wrone Brandice, and Thrower Sharece. 2017. Ideologically sophisticated donors: Which candidates do individual contributors finance? American Journal of Political Science 61(2):271288.
Barber Michael J., Mann Christopher B., Quin Monson J., and Patterson Kelly D.. 2014. Online polls and registration-based sampling: A new method for pre-election polling. Political Analysis 22(3):321335.
Barton Jared, Castillo Marco, and Petrie Ragan. 2014. What persuades voters? A field experiment on political campaigning. The Economic Journal 124(574):F293F326.
Berent Matthew K., Krosnick Jon A., and Lupia Arthur. 2016. Measuring voter registration and turnout in surveys: Do official government records yield more accurate assessments? Public Opinion Quarterly 80(3):597621.
Bidwell Kelly, Casey Katherine, and Glennerster Rachel. 2015. DEBATES: The impacts of voter knowledge initiatives in Sierra Leone. Working Paper, Stanford Graduate School of Business. URL:
Bloniarz Adam, Liu Hanzhong, Zhang Cun-Hui, Sekhon Jasjeet S., and Yu Bin. 2016. Lasso adjustments of treatment effect estimates in randomized experiments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(27):73837390.
Bloom Howard S., Orr Larry L., Bell Stephen H., Cave George, Doolittle Fred, Lin Winston, and Bos Johannes M.. 1997. The benefits and costs of JTPA title II-A programs: Key findings from the National Job Training Partnership Act study. The Journal of Human Resources 32(3):549576.
Broockman David, and Green Donald. 2014. “Do online advertisements increase political candidates” name recognition or favorability? Evidence from randomized field experiments. Political Behavior 36(2):263289.
Broockman David E., and Butler Daniel M.. 2017. The causal effects of elite position-taking on voter attitudes: Field experiments with elite communication. American Journal of Political Science 61(1):208221.
Broockman David E., and Kalla Joshua L.. 2016. Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing. Science 352(6282):220224.
Broockman David, Kalla Joshua, and Sekhon Jasjeet. 2017. Replication data for: The design of field experiments with survey outcomes: A framework for selecting more efficient, robust, and ethical designs. doi:10.7910/DVN/EEP5MT, Harvard Dataverse, V1, UNF:6:gM7KTUQ0wCS6voY98ZTw5A==.
Brüggen E., van den Brakel J., and Krosnick Jon. 2016. Establishing the accuracy of online panels for survey research. Working Paper. Available at
Cardy Emily Arthur. 2005. An experimental field study of the GOTV and persuasion effects of partisan direct mail and phone calls. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 601(1):2840.
Cheung Paul. 2005. Designing household survey samples: Practical guidelines . Number 98 in “Studies in Methods Series F”. United Nations.
Collins Kevin, and Rosmarin Joshua. 2016. Comparing representativeness in online and live interview phone surveys. Presentation at the 71st Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, May 2016, Austin, Texas.
Conroy-Krutz Jeffrey, and Moehler Devra C.. 2015. Moderation from bias: A field experiment on partisan media in a new democracy. Journal of Politics 77(2):575587.
Coppock Alexander. 2016. Positive, small, homogeneous, and durable: Political persuasion in response to information. Dissertation, Columbia University.
Cubbison William. 2015. The marginal effects of direct mail on vote choice. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the midwest political science association. URL:
Dewan Torun, Humphreys Macartan, and Rubenson Daniel. 2014. The elements of political persuasion: Content, charisma and cue. The Economic Journal 124(574):F257F292.
Doherty David, and Scott Adler E.. 2014. The persuasive effects of partisan campaign mailers. Political Research Quarterly 67(3):562573.
Druckman James N., Green Donald P., Kuklinski James H., and Lupia Arthur. 2006. The growth and development of experimental research in political science. American Political Science Review 100(4):627635.
Druckman James N., and Leeper Thomas J.. 2012. Learning more from political communication experiments: Pretreatment and its effects. American Journal of Political Science 56(4):875896.
Enos Ryan D. 2014. Causal effect of intergroup contact on exclusionary attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(10):36993704.
Fearon James, Humphreys Macartan, and Weinstein Jeremy M.. 2009. Development assistance, institution building, and social cohesion after civil war: Evidence from a field experiment in Liberia. Working Paper.
Funk Cary, and Goo Sara Kehaulani. 2015. A look at what the public knows and does not know about science. Technical report Pew Research Center.
Gerber Alan S. 2004. Does campaign spending work? Field experiments provide evidence and suggest new theory. American Behavioral Scientist 47(5):541574.
Gerber Alan S., Karlan Dean, and Bergan Daniel. 2009. Does the media matter? A field experiment measuring the effect of newspapers on voting behavior and political opinions. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1(2):3552.
Gerber Alan S., and Green Donald P.. 2012. Field experiments: design, analysis, and interpretation . New York: W. W. Norton.
Gerber Alan S., Huber Gregory A., and Washington Ebonya. 2010. Party affiliation, partisanship, and political beliefs: A field experiment. American Political Science Review 104(4):720744.
Gerber Alan S., Gimpel James, Green Donald, and Shaw Daron. 2011. How large and long-lasting are the persuasive effects of televised campaign ads? Results from a randomized experiment. American Political Science Review 105(1):135150.
Gooch Andrew, and Vavreck Lynn. 2016. How face-to-face interviews and cognitive skill affect item non-response: A randomized experiment assigning mode of interview. Political Science Research and Methods , doi:10.1017/psrm.2016.20.
Green Donald P., Gerber Alan S., and Nickerson David W.. 2003. Getting out the vote in local elections: Results from six door-to-door canvassing experiments. Journal of Politics 65(4):10831096.
Hainmueller Jens. 2012. Entropy balancing for causal effects: A multivariate reweighting method to produce balanced samples in observational studies. Political Analysis 20(1):2546.
Hainmueller Jens, Hopkins Daniel J., and Yamamoto Teppei. 2014. Causal inference in conjoint analysis: Understanding multidimensional choices via stated preference experiments. Political Analysis 22:130.
Hall Thad E., and Sinclair Betsy. 2011. The American internet voter. Journal of Political Marketing 10:5879.
Hartman Erin, Grieve Richard, Ramsahai Roland, and Sekhon Jasjeet S.. 2015. From SATE to PATT: Combining experimental with observational studies to estimate population treatment effects. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A 178(3):757778.
Heckman James, Smith Jeffrey, and Taber Christopher. 1994. Accounting for dropouts in evaluations of social experiments. URL:
Hersh Eitan D., and Goldenberg Matthew N.. 2016. Democratic and Republican physicians provide different care on politicized health issues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(42):1181111816.
Hill Seth J., Lo James, Vavreck Lynn, and Zaller John R.. 2007. The opt-in internet panel: Survey mode, sampling methodology and the implications for political research. Working Paper, available at
Himelein Kristen. 2015. The socio-economic impacts of Ebola in Liberia: Results from a high frequency cell phone survey, round 5. Technical report World Bank Group.,%20April%2015%20(final).pdf.
Humphreys Macartan, and Weinstein Jeremy M.. 2012. Policing politicians: Citizen empowerment and political accountability in Uganda preliminary analysis. Working Paper.
Isbell Thomas A.2016. Data codebook for a round 6 Afrobarometer survey in Liberia. Technical report Afrobarometer.
Iyengar Shanto, and Vavreck Lynn. 2012. Online panels and the future of political communication research. In The Sage Handbook of Political Communication . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 225240.
Jackman Simon, and Spahn Bradley. 2015. Silenced and ignored: How the turn to voter registration lists excludespeople and opinions from political science andpolitical representation. Working Paper, Stanford University available at
Kish Leslie. 1965. Survey sampling . Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Kohut Andrew, Keeter Scott, Doherty Carroll, Dimock Michael, and Christian Leah. 2012. Assessing the representativeness of public opinion surveys. URL:
Lam Patrick, and Peyton Kyle. 2013. Voter persuasion in compulsory electorates: Evidence from a field experiment in Australia. URL:
McKenzie David. 2012. Beyond baseline and follow-up: The case for more T in experiments. Journal of Development Economics 99(2):210221.
Michelson Melissa R. 2016. The risk of over-reliance on the Institutional Review Board: An approved project is not always an ethical project. PS: Political Science & Politics 49(2):299303.
Miller Roy E., and Robyn Dorothy L.. 1975. A field experimental study of direct mail in a congressional primary campaign: What effects last until election day. Experimental study of politics 4(3):136.
Nickerson David W. 2005a. Partisan mobilization using volunteer phone banks and door hangers. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 601(1):1027.
Nickerson David W. 2005b. Scalable protocols offer efficient design for field experiments. Political Analysis 13(3):233252.
Nickerson David W.2007. Don’t talk to strangers: Experimental evidence of the need for targeting. Presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the midwest political scienec assocation. Available at
Potter Philip B. K., and Gray Julia. 2008. Does costly signaling matter? Preliminary evidence from a field experiment. Working Paper, available at
Rogers Todd, and Nickerson David W.. 2013. Can inaccurate beliefs about incumbents be changed? And can reframing change votes? Working Paper RWP13-018, Harvard Kennedy School. URL:
Sadin Meredith L.2014. Campaigning with class: Ambivalent stereotypes and candidate wealth in U.S. elections. PhD thesis, Princeton.
Sävje Fredrik, Higgins Michael, and Sekhon Jasjeet S.. 2016. Improving massive experiments with threshold blocking. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(27):73697376.
Shineman Victoria Anne. 2016. If you mobilize them, they will become informed: Experimental evidence that information acquisition is endogenous to costs and incentives to participate. British Journal of Political Science , doi:10.1017/S0007123416000168.
Sniderman Paul M., and Grob Douglas B.. 1996. Innovations in experimental design in attitude surveys. Annual Review of Sociology 22:377399.
Solomon Richard L. 1949. An extension of the control group design. Psychological Bulletin 46(2):137150.
Strauss Aaron B.2009. Political ground truth: How personal issue experience counters partisan biases. PhD thesis, Princeton.
Zaller John R. 1992. The nature and origins of mass opinion . New York: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

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

Political Analysis
  • ISSN: 1047-1987
  • EISSN: 1476-4989
  • URL: /core/journals/political-analysis
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Broockman et al. supplementary material
Broockman et al. supplementary material 1

 Unknown (484 KB)
484 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 38
Total number of PDF views: 170 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1164 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 18th September 2017 - 24th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.