, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 181-210

Incentive and informational properties of preference questions

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Surveys are frequently used by businesses and governments to elicit information about the public’s preferences. They have become the most common way to gather preference information regarding goods, that are not (or are not yet) bought or sold in markets. In this paper we apply the standard neoclassical economic framework to generate predictions about how rational agents would answer such survey questions, which in turn implies how such survey data should be interpreted. In some situations, the standard economic model would be expected to have no predictive power. For situations where it does have predictive power, we compare different survey formats with respect to: (a) the information that the question itself reveals to the respondent, (b) the strategic incentives the respondent faces in answering the question, and (c) the information revealed by the respondent’s answer.

Earlier versions of this paper have been presented as a plenary address to the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economics in Oslo, as an invited paper at the Japanese Forum on Environmental Valuation meeting in Kobe, and at a NOAA conference on stated preference methods.