Quality & Quantity

, Volume 48, Issue 6, pp 3343–3354 | Cite as

Self-reported cheating in web surveys on political knowledge

  • Carsten Jensen
  • Jens Peter Frølund ThomsenEmail author


Measuring citizens’ political knowledge is important for understanding public opinion formation. In view of the increasing popularity of Web surveys, this paper examines the limitations of this interviewing facility when measuring factual political knowledge. We show that Web surveys contain a source of measurement error as respondents can “Google” the correct answers. This cheating activity is our principal concern. Past efforts are extended by: (1) offering a self-reported estimate of the share of Googling cheaters, (2) showing that the positive effect of education on factual political knowledge is most probably underestimated when cheating occurs, and (3) showing that self-reported cheating activity is inversely related to actual response time. In the concluding section, we discuss the implications of these results and the extent to which cheating can be reduced. The empirical analyses are based on a Danish Web sample from 2012 (N \(=\) 1,509).


Web surveys Political knowledge Self-reported cheating  The education effect Response time limits 


  1. Alvarez, R.M., Sherman, R.P., VanBeselaere, C.: Subject acquisition for web-based surveys. Political Anal. 11, 23–43 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ansolabehere, S., Schaffner, B.F.: Does survey mode still matter? Findings from a 2010 multi-mode comparison. Unpublished manuscript: downloaded 5 January 2013. (2011)Google Scholar
  3. Berrens, R.P., Bohara, A.K., Jenkins-Smith, H., Silva, C., Weimer, D.L.: The advent of internet surveys for political research: a comparison of telephone and internet samples. Political Anal. 11, 1–22 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Biancotti, C.: A polarization of inequality? The distribution of national Gini coefficients 1970–1996. J. Econ. Inequal. 4, 1–32 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chang, L., Krosnick, J.A.: Comparing oral interviewing with self-administered computerized questionnaires. Public Opin. Q. 74, 154–167 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clarke, H.D., Sanders, D., Stewart, M.C., Whiteley, P.: Leader heuristics, political knowledge and voting in Britain’s AV referendum. Elect. Stud. XXX, 1–12 (2013)Google Scholar
  7. Cook, C., Heath, F., Thompson, R.L.: A meta-analysis of response rates in web- or internet-based surveys. Educ. Psychol. Meas. 60, 821–836 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Couper, M.P.: Web surveys. A review of issues and approaches. Public Opin. Q. 64(4), 464–494 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Delli Carpini, M.X., Keeter, S.: Measuring political knowledge: putting first things first. Am J Pol Sci 37(4), 1179–1206 (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Delli Carpini, M.X., Keeter, S.: What Americans know about politics and why it matters. Yale University Press, New Haven (1996)Google Scholar
  11. Elo, K.: Asking factual knowledge questions: reliability in web-based, passive sampling surveys. Soc. Sci. Comput. Rev. 27, 1–16 (2009)Google Scholar
  12. Fricker, S., Galesic, M., Tourangeau, R., Yan, T.: An experimental comparison of web and telephone surveys. Public Opin. Q. 69, 370–392 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gilens, M.: Political ignorance and collective policy preferences. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 95, 379–396 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grönlund, K., Milner, H.: The determinants of political knowledge in comparative perspective. Scand. Polit. Stud. 29(4), 386–406 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heerweg, D.: Mode differences between face-to-face and web surveys: an experimental investigation of data quality and social desirability effects. Int. J. Public Opin. Res. 21, 111–121 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heerweg, D., Loosveldt, G.: Face-to-face versus web surveying in a high-internet-coverage population. Public Opin. Q. 72, 836–846 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hooghe, M., Reeskens, T., Stolle, D., Trappers, A.: Ethnic diversity and generalized trust in Europe: a cross-national multilevel study. Comp. Polit. Stud. 42, 198–223 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jennings, M.K.: Political knowledge over time and across generations. Public Opin. Q. 60, 228–252 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kreuter, F., Presser, S., Tourangeau, R.: Social desirability bias in CATI, IVR, and web surveys. Public Opin. Q. 72, 847–865 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kunovich, R.M.: Political knowledge in Poland. Communist Post-Communist Stud. |, 1–14 (2013)Google Scholar
  21. Lambert, R.D., Curtis, J.E., Kay, B.J., Brown, S.D.: The social sources of political knowledge. Can. J. Polit. Sci. 21(2), 359–374 (1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Luskin, R.C.: Measuring political sophistication. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 31, 856–899 (1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mondak, J.J.: Reconsidering the measurement of political knowledge. Polit. Anal. 8, 57–82 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Prior, M., Lupia, A.: Money, time, and political knowledge: distinguishing quick recall and political learning skills. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 52(1), 169–183 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stephenson, L.B., Crête, J.: Studying political behavior: a comparison of internet and telephone surveys. Int. J. Public Opin. Res. 23, 24–55 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Strabac, Z., Aalberg, T.: Measuring political knowledge in telephone and web surveys. A cross-national comparison. Soc. Sci. Comput. Rev. 29(2), 175–192 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sturgis, P., Allum, N., Smith, P.: An experiment on the measurement of political knowledge in surveys. Public Opin. Q. 85, 90–102 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Viklund, M.J.: Trust and risk perception in Western Europe: a cross-national study. Risk Anal. 23, 727–738 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zaller, J.R.: The nature and origins of mass opinion. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

Personalised recommendations