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How accurate are surveyed preferences for public policies? Evidence from a unique institutional setup

Opinion polls and other surveys are used to capture public sentiments on a variety of issues. If citizens are unwilling to reveal certain policy preferences to others, surveys may fail to characterize population preferences accurately. The innovation of this paper is to use unique data to measure survey biases for a broad range of policies. I combine data on 184 referenda held in Switzerland between 1987 and 2007, with post- ballot surveys that ask how the citizens voted for each proposal. The difference between stated preferences in the survey and revealed preferences at the ballot box provides a direct measure of survey bias. I find that these biases vary by policy areas, with the largest occurring in policies on immigration, international integration, and votes involving liberal/conservative attitudes. Also, citizens show a tendency to respond in accordance with the majority.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 1334.

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Date of creation: Sep 2012
Date of revision: Nov 2013
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1334
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. Monika Buetler & Michel André Maréchal, 2007. "Framing Effects in Political Decision Making: Evidence from a Natural Voting Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 1940, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Lundquist, Tobias & Ellingsen, Tore & Gribbe, Erik & Johannesson, Magnus, 2009. "The aversion to lying," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 70(1-2), pages 81-92, May.
  3. Timothy Besley & Stephen Coate, 2000. "Issue Unbundling via Citizens' Initiatives," NBER Working Papers 8036, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Stephen Morris, 1999. "Political Correctness," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1242, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  5. John List & Stefano DellaVigna & Ulrike Malmendier, 2012. "Testing for altruism and social pressure in charitable giving," Natural Field Experiments 00137, The Field Experiments Website.
  6. Mas, Alexandre & Moretti, Enrico, 2006. "Peers at Work," IZA Discussion Papers 2292, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Luigi Guiso & Paola Sapienza & Luigi Zingales, 2002. "People's Opium? Religion and Economic Attitudes," NBER Working Papers 9237, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Alberto Alesina & Nicola Fuchs-Schundeln, 2005. "Good bye Lenin (or not?): The effect of Communism on people's preferences," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2076, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  9. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
  10. Uri Gneezy, 2005. "Deception: The Role of Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 384-394, March.
  11. Patricia Funk, 2010. "Social Incentives and Voter Turnout: Evidence from the Swiss Mail Ballot System," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(5), pages 1077-1103, 09.
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