The Wisdom of Crowds Design for Sensitive Survey Questions

(with Roni Lehrer and Thomas Gschwend)
Electoral Studies, forthcoming

Survey research on sensitive questions is challenging because respondents often answer untruthfully or completely refuse to answer. Existing indirect questioning techniques address the problem of social desirability bias at the expense of decreasing estimates' efficiency. We suggest the Wisdom of Crowds survey design that does not pose a tradeoff between anonymity and efficiency as an alternative. We outline the conditions necessary for the technique to work and test them empirically. Moreover, we compare the Wisdom of Crowd estimate of a right-wing populist party's vote share to alternative indirect questioning techniques' estimates as well as to the official election result in the 2017 German federal election. Provided its conditions are met, the Wisdom of Crowds design performs best in terms of both bias and efficiency. We conclude that the Wisdom of Crowds design is an important addition to social scientists' survey methodology toolbox.

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