Title: “Could vote buying be socially desirable? Exploratory analyses of a ‘failed’ list experiment”

Authors: Sophia Hatz, Hanna Fjelde, and David Randahl

Year: 2023

Publisher: Quality & Quantity International Journal of Methodology

Abstract: List experiments encourage survey respondents to report sensitive opinions they may pre- fer not to reveal. But, studies sometimes find that respondents admit more readily to sensi- tive opinions when asked directly. Often this over-reporting is viewed as a design failure, attributable to inattentiveness or other nonstrategic error. This paper conducts an explora- tory analysis of such a ‘failed’ list experiment measuring vote buying in the 2019 Nigerian presidential election. We take this opportunity to explore our assumptions about vote buy- ing. Although vote buying is illegal and stigmatized in many countries, a significant litera- ture links such exchanges to patron-client networks that are imbued with trust, reciprocity and long-standing benefits, which might create incentives for individuals to claim having been offered to participate in vote buying. Submitting our data to a series of tests of design, we find that over-reporting is strategic: respondents intentionally reveal vote buying and it’s likely that those who reveal vote buying have in fact being offered to participate in vote buying. Considering reasons for over-reporting such as social desirability and network ben- efits, and the strategic nature of over-reporting, we suggest that “design failure” is not the only possible conclusion from unexpected list experiment results. With this paper we show that our theoretical assumptions about sensitivity bias affect the conclusions we can draw from a list experiment.

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