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Do Survey Estimates of the Public’s Compliance with COVID-19 Regulations Suffer from Social Desirability Bias?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led governments to instate a large number of restrictions on and recommendations for citizens’ behavior. One widely used tool for measuring compliance with these strictures are nationally representative surveys that ask citizens to self-report their behavior. But if respondents avoid disclosing socially undesirable behaviors, such as not complying with government strictures in a public health crisis, estimates of compliance will be biased upwards. To assess the magnitude of this problem, this study compares measures of compliance from direct questions to those estimated from list-experiments - a response technique that allows respondents to report illicit behaviors without individual-level detection. Implementing the list-experiment in two separate surveys of Danish citizens (n>5,000), we find no evidence that citizens under-report non-compliant behavior. We therefore conclude that survey estimates of compliance with COVID-19 regulations do not suffer from social desirability bias.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Behavioral Public Administration
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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