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What Citizens Know Depends on How You Ask Them: Experiments on Time, Money and Political Knowledge


  • Markus Prior

    (Princeton University)

  • Arthur Lupia

    (University of Michigan)


Surveys provide widely cited measures of political knowledge. Do unusual aspects of survey interviews affect these measures? An experiment on a nationally representative sample of over 1200 Americans provides an answer. Respondents are randomly assigned to one of four groups. A control group answers questions in a typical survey context. Respondents in three treatment groups are given a longer window of time in which to answer questions, a small monetary incentive for answering questions correctly, or both. These variations increase performance significantly for almost every knowledge question we asked. Overall, average knowledge scores in the treatment groups are 11-24 percent higher than in the control group. The treatments also cause significant reductions in the magnitude of respondents’ errors on open-ended questions. The findings imply that new elicitation strategies can improve our understanding of what citizens know about politics and other socially relevant phenomena.

Suggested Citation

  • Markus Prior & Arthur Lupia, 2005. "What Citizens Know Depends on How You Ask Them: Experiments on Time, Money and Political Knowledge," Experimental 0510001, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpex:0510001
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 45

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Smith, Vernon L & Walker, James M, 1993. "Monetary Rewards and Decision Cost in Experimental Economics," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 31(2), pages 245-261, April.
    2. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
    3. repec:cup:apsrev:v:89:y:1995:i:02:p:309-326_09 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Blair, Edward & Burton, Scot, 1987. " Cognitive Processes Used by Survey Respondents to Answer Behavioral Frequency Questions," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 280-288, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Anna Bassi & Kenneth C. Williams, 2014. "Examining Monotonicity and Saliency Using Level- k Reasoning in a Voting Game," Games, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(1), pages 1-27, February.
    2. Krupnikov, Yanna & Levine, Adam Seth & Lupia, Arthur & Prior, Markus, 2006. "Public Ignorance and Estate Tax Repeal: The Effect of Partisan Differences and Survey Incentives," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 59(3), pages 425-437, September.

    More about this item


    information economics; political information; experimental economics; incentives;

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments

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