Simpler Questions Are Sometimes Better

It’s the time of the year I make my students read codebooks (to choose a data set). It often strikes me how complex survey questions can be, especially once we take into account introductions and explanations. The quest is clear: precision, ruling out alternative understandings. Often, these are (or seem to be) the sole tools we have to ensure measurement validity.

Against this background, a paper by Sebastian Lundmark et al. highlights that minimally balanced questions are best for measuring generalized trust: asking whether “most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people” (fully balanced) is beaten by questions that limit themselves to whether it is “possible to trust people.”

Lundmark, Sebastian, Mikael Gilljam, and Stefan Dahlberg. 2015. ‘Measuring Generalized Trust An Examination of Question Wording and the Number of Scale Points’. Public Opinion Quarterly, October, nfv042. doi:10.1093/poq/nfv042.