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Journal Article

The Effects of Question Order in Attitude Surveys: The Case of the SRC/CPS Citizen Duty Items

Paul R. Abramson, Brian D. Silver and Barbara A. Anderson
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 31, No. 4 (Nov., 1987), pp. 900-908
DOI: 10.2307/2111228
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111228
Page Count: 9
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The Effects of Question Order in Attitude Surveys: The Case of the SRC/CPS Citizen Duty Items
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Abstract

Campbell and his colleagues developed a four-item scale that measured support for the norm of citizen duty and found that feelings of citizen duty were strongly correlated with electoral participation. Although the four citizen-duty items were used in seven SRC/CPS National Election Studies (NES) between 1952 and 1980, the 1984 NES employed only one of them: "If a person doesn't care how an election comes out then that person shouldn't vote in it." The percentage disagreeing with this statement, and hence endorsing the citizen duty norm, fell from 58.7 in 1980 to 42.8 in 1984. We argue that this apparent decline in feelings of citizen duty is very likely to be a methodological artifact resulting from changed questionnaire content and question order. In previous surveys, this item was preceded by two other citizen duty items with which respondents expressed overwhelming disagreement. Without first having answered these preceding items, respondents were much less likely to disagree with the "doesn't care, shouldn't vote" item. This interpretation is supported by analyses of the 1952 NES, in which the order of the citizen duty items was varied systematically. Our analyses suggest that even apparently minor changes in questionnaire content can substantially affect the distribution of responses to attitudinal questions.

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