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Social desirability bias and polling errors in the 2016 presidential election


  • Brownback, Andy
  • Novotny, Aaron


Social scientists have observed that socially desirable responding (SDR) often biases unincentivized surveys. Nonetheless, media, campaigns, and markets all employ unincentivized polls to make predictions about electoral outcomes. During the 2016 presidential campaign, we conducted three list experiments to test the effect SDR has on polls of agreement with presidential candidates. We elicit a subject’s agreement with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump using explicit questioning or an implicit elicitation that allows subjects to conceal their individual responses. We find evidence that explicit polling overstates agreement with Clinton relative to Trump. Subgroup analysis by party identification shows that SDR significantly diminishes explicit statements of agreement with the opposing party’s candidate driven largely by Democrats who are significantly less likely to explicitly state agreement with Trump. We measure economic policy preferences and find no evidence that ideological agreement drives SDR. We find suggestive evidence that local voting patterns predict SDR.

Suggested Citation

  • Brownback, Andy & Novotny, Aaron, 2018. "Social desirability bias and polling errors in the 2016 presidential election," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 38-56.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:74:y:2018:i:c:p:38-56
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2018.03.001

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    1. Polls and voter turnout
      by ireadeconpapers in I Read Econ Papers on 2020-11-10 11:09:55


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    More about this item


    Polling; Social desirability; List experiment; Election; Economic policy; Predictions;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making


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