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Are Branching Questions Always Better than Rating Scales for Measuring Policy Preferences? Effects of Survey Question Format on Respondent Satisficing and Attitude Strength

Dr. Alexander Glantz, Ipsos Public Affairs and Jan Eric Blumenstiel, University of Mannheim, in Proceedings of the European Survey Research Association Conference, 07/2013

The prevailing conventional wisdom in survey research holds that most citizens do not possess tightly organized and stable policy preferences. However, according to satisficing theory, low attitude strength might partly result from measurement error since policy attitudes are commonly measured with complex rating scales which places too much burden on respondents' cognitive ability.

Previous studies have shown that decomposing rating scales into branching questions can reduce task difficulty for respondents and increases over-time consistency of policy attitudes in surveys. So far, research has paid less attention to the question of whether branching questions reduce the risk of respondent satisficing and whether the superiority of branching questions is conditional on respondent characteristics and survey mode. In the present paper we compare the effects of rating scales and branching questions on response style behavior, inter-attitude consistency and stability of policy attitudes. We first hypothesize that policy attitudes of politically involved citizens are less affected by survey questions format. Second, we expect that the extent of satisficing in rating scales vary with survey mode and should be highest in orally presented surveys. To test these hypotheses, we use data from two experiments, one conducted in an online survey and the other one conducted in a mixed-mode panel survey. Contrary to previous studies our results show that branching formats do not reduce satisficing and increase attitude strength. In contrast seven-point scales have the best overall performance in terms of consistency, stability and satisficing.