Research to Reduce Over Reporting of Turnout

Research to Reduce Over Reporting of Turnout

Political scientists and researchers interested in civic behavior have long recognized that survey respondents often say they voted in the last election when, in fact, they did not. Many attempts have been made to rewrite standard survey questions to encourage respondents to answer accurately. Recent research published in the journal Political Analysis by Michael Hanmer, Antoine Banks, and Ismail White presents an experiment using two new questions to improve survey measures of voter turnout:

Control Question (from the American National Election Studies)—“In talking to people about elections, we often find that a lot of people were not able to vote because they weren’t registered, they were sick, or they just didn’t have time. Which of the following statements best describes you? “

First Experimental Question—“In talking to people about elections, we often find that a lot of people were not able to vote because they weren’t registered, they were sick, or they just didn’t have time. By looking at public records kept by election officials, we can get an accurate report of who actually voted in November, and in previous elections. Of course, these public records do not say who you voted for. Part of our study will involve checking these records against the survey reports. Which of the following statements best describes you?”

Second Experimental Question—“In talking to people about elections, we often find that a lot of people were not able to vote because they weren’t registered, they were sick, or they just didn’t have time. We also sometimes find that people who say they voted actually did not vote. Which of the following statements best describes you?”

All three questions offered the same answer choices: “(1) I did not vote (in the election this November); (2) I thought about voting this time but didn’t; (3) I usually vote but didn’t this time; and (4) I am sure I voted.”

The first experimental question significantly reduced inaccurate responses to 17.2 percent, compared with 24.8 percent for the control question and 20 percent for the second experimental question.

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