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Tuesday 14th July, 14:00 - 15:30 Room: O-101

Surveying Sensitive Issues: Challenges and Solutions 1

Convenor Mr Marc Hoeglinger (ETH Zurich )
Coordinator 1Professor Andreas Diekmann (ETH Zurich)
Coordinator 2Professor Ben Jann (University of Bern)

Session Details

Surveying sensitive issues such as deviant behavior, stigmatizing traits, or controversial attitudes poses two challenges: The first challenge is data validity. Respondents are likely to misreport when asked sensitive questions, or they refuse answering such questions or even break off the interview. As a result, measurements are biased or incomplete. The second challenge is respondents’ privacy protection. Respondents’ data must be carefully protected to avoid leakage of sensitive personal information. Although this concerns almost all surveys in principle, it becomes much more important when, for instance, highly illegal behavior or political attitudes under repression are surveyed.

Switching to self-administrated survey modes such as online interviews mitigates undesired response effects to some extent. Also, adjusting the questionnaire design and the question wording might attenuate response effects. However, empirical results are inconclusive so far and results seem to depend highly on the particular issue and population surveyed. Providing respondents with full response privacy through indirect techniques such as the Randomized Response Technique or the Item Count Technique is a potential solution to both problems mentioned. However, albeit privacy is completely protected by these methods if properly implemented, respondents often lack understanding of and trust in these methods, so that misreporting might not be reduced.

In this session we invite submissions that deal with problems of surveying sensitive issues and/or present potential solutions. We are interested in studies that evaluate established methods such as indirect question techniques, but also in contributions that come up with novel strategies. Furthermore, we encourage submissions that deal with the concept of “sensitivity” and present theoretical frameworks and/or empirical analyses that shed light on the cognitive process of answering sensitive questions and “editing” responses. Submissions on statistical methods to analyze data from special questioning techniques are also welcomed.

Paper Details

1. The randomized response bracketing design
Dr Maarten Cruyff (Utrecht University)
Professor Peter Van Der Heijden (Utrecht University)

At present the Dutch Doping Authority conducts a survey is being amongst top athletes in the Netherlands about doping use. Interest is in all time and present use of 5 groups of substances. Since the topic is highly sensitive, the randomized response format is being used. Respondents are asked two question about each group of substances, (1) have you ever used it and (2) have you used in the last 12 months. This design is highly efficient compared to a design with a single question. Statistical models for the analysis of these data (and hopefully some results) are presented.

2. The Effectiveness of the Item Sum Technique in Eliciting Valid Answers to the Income Question and Self-Reported Alcohol Consumption
Dr Felix Wolter (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

The paper empirically examines the item-sum-technique (IST), a technique recently proposed by Trappmann et al. (2014) for surveying quantitative sensitive questions. Using data from a CATI survey (N=532) in Germany, IST is compared to direct questioning for the income question and a question on self-reported alcohol consumption. The findings show that nonresponse to the income question is reduced considerably by the IST. Regarding self-reported alcohol consumption, the slightly higher estimates in IST format fail to be statistically significant for the whole sample. For male and higher educated respondents, however, the IST yields significantly higher estimates.

3. New versions of the item count technique
Professor Tasos Christofides (University of Cyprus)

In sample surveys, when the issues under investigation are sensitive, people are reluctant to participate, and even if they agree to participate, false or misleading answers are given by many of them. Indirect questioning techniques offer a solution to this problem. One such technique, the Item Count Technique, can be easily understood by participants and it can be incorporated in structured questionnaires. However, the method has a serious disadvantage related to the protection of privacy. In this talk we propose new versions of the Item Count Technique which protect the privacy of the participants.

4. Asking Sensitive Questions in Surveys: A Vivid Illustration of a Strategy Including True and Masked Responses
Professor Andreas Quatember (Associate Professor )

Indirect questioning designs such as randomized response (RR) strategies can ensure a high level of data quality and quantity and serve as a potential alternative to the direct questioning. The concept of “pseudo-populations” vividly illustrates an RR technique with respect to the sensitivity of the variable, its inherent privacy protection, as well as the accuracy of the estimator. It can improve the respondent’s understanding of the method as well as of the estimation process and is developed exemplarily for a general RR strategy including not only masked but also true values.