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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  The satisficing literature identifies several attributes of survey questions that can be expected to produce opinion convergence among ill-informed respondents: • Questions phrased in the form of assertions. There exists a well-documented tendency for respondents to answer in the affirmative any question that uses yes/no, agree/disagree, willing/not willing, and favor/oppose response options. 3 Acquiescence bias can be seen to result from satisficing, where less able or motivated respondents search first for reasons to agree with an assertion, responding with “disagree” only in the absence of such reasons (Krosnick 1991). • Rating scales containing a middle position. An easy way to answer questions about policy issues is to select the middle point in the response scale, which might indicate favoring the status quo or merely neutrality on the issue (Krosnick 1991). Since questions with middle options are less reliable than those without them (Alwin and Krosnick 1991), it would seem that many respondents select the middle point as a strategy for coping with the cognitive demands of the survey interview rather than as an accurate report of underlying attitudes. • Series of sequential questions using the same response scale. To make a survey more efficient by reducing the time it takes to read and answer questions, survey designers often group a series of questions together sharing the same response scale. Yet when faced with such a question series, less motivated respondents often select the same point on the scale to answer all the questions, a tendency known as “response set” or “scale non- differentiation.” 4 3 This tendency is thought to result from a habit of being insufficiently critical of generalizations or from social deference toward the survey interviewer (Schuman and Presser 1981). Schuman and Presser found that the tendency to acquiesce was common to all classes of respondents, but was relatively more predictable among the less educated. 4 Such behavior can be quite common: one out of ten respondents in the 1980 General Social Surveys rated all of the objects in a 13-item question series using the same point on the rating scale, and the answers of over 40% of respondents showed substantial evidence of non-differentiation (Krosnick and Alwin 1988). Yet the interpretation of

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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The satisficing literature identifies several attributes of survey questions that can be expected to
produce opinion convergence among ill-informed respondents:
Questions phrased in the form of assertions. There exists a well-documented
tendency for respondents to answer in the affirmative any question that uses
yes/no, agree/disagree, willing/not willing, and favor/oppose response
options.
3
Acquiescence bias can be seen to result from satisficing, where less
able or motivated respondents search first for reasons to agree with an
assertion, responding with “disagree” only in the absence of such reasons
(Krosnick 1991).
Rating scales containing a middle position. An easy way to answer questions
about policy issues is to select the middle point in the response scale, which
might indicate favoring the status quo or merely neutrality on the issue
(Krosnick 1991). Since questions with middle options are less reliable than
those without them (Alwin and Krosnick 1991), it would seem that many
respondents select the middle point as a strategy for coping with the cognitive
demands of the survey interview rather than as an accurate report of
underlying attitudes.
Series of sequential questions using the same response scale. To make a
survey more efficient by reducing the time it takes to read and answer
questions, survey designers often group a series of questions together sharing
the same response scale. Yet when faced with such a question series, less
motivated respondents often select the same point on the scale to answer all
the questions, a tendency known as “response set” or “scale non-
differentiation.”
4
3 This tendency is thought to result from a habit of being insufficiently critical of generalizations or from social
deference toward the survey interviewer (Schuman and Presser 1981). Schuman and Presser found that the tendency
to acquiesce was common to all classes of respondents, but was relatively more predictable among the less educated.
4 Such behavior can be quite common: one out of ten respondents in the 1980 General Social Surveys rated all
of the objects in a 13-item question series using the same point on the rating scale, and the answers of over 40% of
respondents showed substantial evidence of non-differentiation (Krosnick and Alwin 1988). Yet the interpretation of


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