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An experiment on the measurement of political knowledge in surveys

Sturgis, Patrick, Allum, Nick and Smith, Patten (2008) An experiment on the measurement of political knowledge in surveys Public Opinion Quarterly, 72, (1), pp. 90-102. (doi:10.1093/poq/nfm032).

Record type: Article


In a series of articles, Mondak and colleagues argue that the conventional way of measuring political knowledge in surveys is flawed. Personality related "propensity to guess" underestimates the level of political knowledge in the population and distorts estimates of between group differences, when a DK alternative is offered. This has led Mondak to recommend the use of closed-ended items on which DKs are not explicitly offered, following best practice in the field of educational testing. In this article, we present the results of an experimental study which calls into question the wisdom of this approach. Our results show little evidence of partial knowledge concealed within DK responses; when people who initially select a DK alternative are subsequently asked to provide a "best guess," they fare statistically no better than chance. We conclude that opinion researchers should be cautious about adopting Mondak's recommendations for the design of political knowledge items in surveys.

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Published date: 2008


Local EPrints ID: 64634
ISSN: 0033-362X
PURE UUID: b5d13b59-3630-401a-a5fe-6e9e734bac76

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Date deposited: 15 Jan 2009
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 14:12

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Author: Patrick Sturgis
Author: Nick Allum
Author: Patten Smith

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