Bryan Caplan

Survey Pre-Test: Who In Government Has Influence Over What?

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Fed Attribution Error... What's Worth Overcoming?...

Remember the political power survey that Ilya Somin and I pre-tested last year? Since then, we've added a third co-author - Wayne Grove of Lemoyne College - done extensive revisions, and been given access to 25 questions worth of space on a larger Zogby survey. Before we put our questions in the Zogby queue, however, we'd like to pre-test them.

Interested? Here's the latest version of the Caplan-Grove-Somin survey. We don't ask for your demographics this time, because Zogby will be taking care of that for us. If you've got any other comments or suggestions, we'd love to hear them - but keep in mind that the total number of questions is fixed at 25.

Thanks, and feel free to send this link far and wide.

P.S. We've especially eager to get some comments on the last question. How can we word it better? Can it be salvaged at all?


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COMMENTS (19 to date)
Gabriel M. writes:

Should people outside the US participate or would we just screw up the results?

Will Ambrosini writes:

#3 (and similar questions) - The wording suggests a single agency for all of the state and local governments might have control over the whole economy. Do you mean local government's control over the local economy? (To me the answer's the same, no matter, but I suspect some might be confused by the wording or, worse for interpreting the results, different people will have different interpretations.)

In general, because you're presenting only three or four options of who "controls" the economy, some respondents may assume one of those options must have control. Can you ask explicitly whether or not people think the government (in any of its forms) has control of the economy?

Les writes:

I think your questionnaire has a fatal flaw. Many of your questions ask whether a unit of government can influence something favorably or unfavorably.

That assumes that a government unit can equally help or hurt something. I respectfully disagree with this assumption of symmetry.

It seems to me that units of government have many opportunities to intervene and do harm, but far fewer chances to help on most issues.

Often, I believe the best government can do on many issues is to stay clear and refrain from interfering.

liberty writes:

I suspect that you kept the questions vague on purpose, and have a theory you are trying to prove or something (I haven't read any associated draft papers or anything more about the survey, I may not have been around when you first posted it last year either).

To me, it seems too vague. You are asking, I guess, about who has more control, and whether the person has a general feeling that the respectively branch or level of government has "control" generally. And perhaps to those paying less attention, those are the only relevant questions.

But to me it seemed far too ambiguous. What kind of "control"? Must it be purposeful control or can it be incidental-- they do something and accidentally affect the economy? Should we be thinking about likely scenarios or possible scenarios? Should we be thinking "this is how much they have controlled it in the past" or "this is how much they theoretically *could* control it"?

If the given branch or level of government could, constitutionally, or could by using an emergency measure or amending the constitution if this in their power, or could if they worked overtime and did much more than usual in a given year or chose to make radical decisions in order to do so, does that count?

etc.

Jody writes:

Q25: I would suggest rewording it as a sequence of questions asking how much weight the respondent gives to each of the factors:

past performance
expectations of future performance
party affiliation
shared views (political affinity?)
other

another bob writes:

Regarding question 25 - how about a couple questions like:

"Do you prefer that the President and Congressional majority are from the same party or different parties?"

"Do you prefer that your State Governor and Legislative majority are from the same party or different parties?"

Personnally, I vote for split government first. I prefer a Democrat in the Executive and Republicans in the Legislature, with a healthy sprinkling of 3rd party representatives. I also vote to throw out the old scoundrels and throw in the new rascals. I'm non-partisan.

Peter McCluskey writes:

I object to question 18. The authors of the constitution would have said the correct answer is "all of the above". Did you mean to ask which branch currently exercises that power the most, or are you asking about the currently popular belief that only the courts have that power?

Felix writes:

The order of the questions within each group seemed awkward.

Is the order of questions within groups randomized on a per-pollee basis?

Otherwise, the inconsistent ordering gives a sense of what results the poller wants or expects for each group.

Off topic: A GUI could really make answering these questions easier. And could easily include the ability to set the level of control for "Other". Imagine a fixed length bar composed of colored sub-bars, each representing one of the entities which might have "control". The sub-bar ends would be draggable. Long sub-bars would represent a lot of control, short ones, little control. That would allow all of the question groups to include all of the entities, too.

John writes:

I second Les on the flaw of the survey.

Depending on your point of view and ideology, questions can imply different things to different people.

Who has more influence over your property rights?

I dunno. the IRS can confiscate your land, federal courts can pass eminent domain rulings but local and state can do everything else....so which is "more"?

That's just one.

And "Influence"...influence HOW? By doing something or NOT doing something or UNdoing something??

John writes:

Last question:

I think:

Judging who is in power and how your vote for a candidate would affect that power.

For me, that can mean:

Oh we have a Dem Pres? Vote GOP in congress!

or vice versa.

AnonymousLibraryStudent writes:

How about this for question 25?

Which of the following factors do you consider most when you decide who to vote for?

- Their past performance.
- How you think they will perform in the future, regardless of their past performance.
- Their political views. (Or maybe "Their opinions on the issues"?)
- The party that they belong to.
- Don't know.

Those answers are more neutral that the ones you had—allowing people to answer that they vote based on the candidate's political views if they vote for candidates who agree with then or against candidates who disagree with them, for example. I'm not sure if that's a benefit to you or not. But, anyway, the answers are a little briefer and clearer, I think?

Unit writes:

It was hard for me to answer questions 1-16 (as some people have already mentioned), and I ended up checking off "a lot of influence" on all of them because all those unit of government can seriously screw up the economy if they decide to and your question is phrased with "whether the economy gets stronger or weaker", i.e. with an inclusive 'or' I presume.

Also on 25 I don't vote, so "I don't know" is not an option.

ko writes:

I agree with Peter M regarding Q18...there should be a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 selection representing the correct answer.

Cash writes:

I suspect we're not being asked for the correct answers merely what we believe to be the correct answers. With that as the goal of the survey, the questions do make sense.

Gary Rogers writes:

I have been thinking about the last question and might add a choice for the candidate that will do the least harm. I know for our upcoming election there is nobody that I think is good, but several that could do serious harm to our economy. I will hold my nose and vote for the least harm.

I also would be curious to know how many people vote for those candidates further down on the ballot where they have no information on which to base a decision. Most people have no information on races below congress, and many have trouble even at that level.

RobbL writes:

I have two comments.

I wonder about the use of the term "influence". That had me thinking about "jawboning" versus actual acts. I see what you are getting at, but maybe a better word could be used.

My upbringing influences my social behavior. It could be said that the police "influence" my behavior during a traffic stop...but that would be an ironic use of the the word.

In terms of Q25, I am surprised that you don't have something along the lines of "I admire his or her character". This is often expressed in the popular media as the reason to support one person or another.

I have even heard right wingers voice support or Obama on something like this basis.

TGGP writes:

I answered "Don't know" for the last question because I don't vote. Voting is irrational.

spencer writes:

What do you mean by "win in Iraq"?

That can mean many different things to different people.

Can you even tell me what you think winning in Iraq means?

Dave writes:

#23 leaves out 2 words "That you": It should read

How concerned are you THAT YOU or someone....

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