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Can We Improve the Measurement of Attitudes Towards the Welfare State? A Constructive Critique of Survey Instruments with Evidence from Focus Groups

  • Achim Goerres


  • Katrin Prinzen


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    There is a large and growing literature on welfare state attitudes, most of which is built on random-sample population surveys with standardised closed-question items. This article criticises the existing survey instruments, especially those that are used within the International Social Survey Programme, in a novel approach with focus group data from Germany. The article demonstrates: firstly, these instruments underestimate the inconsistency (the degree to which attitudes logically contradict each other), the uncertainty (the degree to which individuals are unsure about what to think), the ambivalence (the simultaneous occurrence of positive and negative reactions) and non-attitudes towards welfare state activities that common people have. Secondly, the meaning of these items to respondents seems to vary to such an extent that inference based on such measures is questionable. Finally, the article concludes by suggesting some survey instruments that alleviate these measurement problems. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

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    Article provided by Springer in its journal Social Indicators Research.

    Volume (Year): 109 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 3 (December)
    Pages: 515-534

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    Handle: RePEc:spr:soinre:v:109:y:2012:i:3:p:515-534
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    1. Anders Wikman, 2006. "Reliability, Validity and True Values in Surveys," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 78(1), pages 85-110, 08.
    2. Runt Veenhoven, 2002. "Why Social Policy Needs Subjective Indicators," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 58(1), pages 33-46, June.
    3. Louviere,Jordan J. & Hensher,David A. & Swait,Joffre D., 2000. "Stated Choice Methods," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521788304, October.
    4. Ram Cnaan, 1989. "Public opinion and the dimensions of the welfare state," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 21(3), pages 297-314, June.
    5. Tito Boeri & Axel Börsch-Supan & Guido Tabellini, 2001. "Would you like to shrink the welfare state? A survey of European citizens," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 16(32), pages 7-50, 04.
    6. Anders Wikman, 2007. "Context Effects as an Illustration of Response Uncertainty –A Cautionary Tale," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 84(1), pages 27-38, October.
    7. Carson, Richard T & Flores, Nicholas A, 2000. "Contingent Valuation: Controversies and Evidence," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt75k752s7, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
    8. Anne Lindsay & Anita Hubley, 2006. "Conceptual Reconstruction through a Modified Focus Group Methodology," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 79(3), pages 437-454, December.
    9. Valerie Møller & Ida Erstad & Dalinyebo Zani, 2010. "Drinking, Smoking, and Morality: Do ‘Drinkers and Smokers’ Constitute a Stigmatised Stereotype or a Real TB Risk Factor in the Time of HIV/AIDS?," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 98(2), pages 217-238, September.
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