Can Surveys Measure Informed Public Preferences Regarding Government Policies? An Evaluation of the Contingent Valuation Method

Jon Krosnick
6. Mai 2016 bei GESIS in Mannheim (Konferenzraum B2,8 rechts) 13:45 Uhr 

Abstract One view of democracy suggests that in order to be viewed as legitimate, a government must take into account the public's wishes regarding the specifics of public policies that might be implemented. Surveys are a mechanism by which officials can learn about their constituents. But surveys often ask people to make soft and ambiguous judgments about how they would like their tax dollars spent (e.g., “Do you think government spending on the military should be increased, decreased, or kept about the same?”), and many studies have shown that the public lacks detailed knowledge on the issues about which they are asked. Is it possible instead to gauge informed and precise assessments of the public's preferences? One method intended to do so is deliberative polling, a technique that is very resource-intensive. This talk will describe an alternative method: contingent valuation. The method has been used for decades by academics and by government officials without much public attention, but is has also been the subject of vigorous criticism in the context of high-stakes litigation. This talk will describe how the method works and will review evidence evaluating its effectiveness and the cogency of the criticisms launched against it. The evidence provides insights into how people make political judgments and into whether the public can live up to the requirements of democracy.


Zur Person Jon A. Krosnick is Frederic O. Glover Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences. An expert on questionnaire design and survey research methods, he has taught courses on survey methods around the world for 30 years and has served as a methodology consultant to government agencies, commercial firms, and academic scholars. His substantive work focuses on the psychology of political attitudes and behavior. He was co-principal investigator of the American National Election Study, the nation's preeminent academic research project exploring voter decision-making and political campaign effects. Dr. Krosnick studies how the American public's political attitudes are formed, change, and shape thinking and action. His publications explore the causes of people decisions about whether to vote, for whom to vote, whether to approve of the President's performance, whether to take action to influence government policy-making on a specific issue, and more. Dr. Krosnick's scholarship has been recognized with the Phillip Brickman Memorial Prize, the Pi Sigma Alpha Award, the Erik Erikson Early Career Award for Excellence and Creativity, two fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, election as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Association for Public Opinion Research's lifetime achievement award, given for an outstanding contribution to the field of public opinion research. At Stanford Dr. Krosnick directs the Political Psychology Research Group (PPRG), a cross-disciplinary team of scholars who conduct empirical studies of the psychology of political behavior and studies seeking to optimize research methodology for studying political psychology in collaboration with leading news media organizations, including ABC News, The Associated Press, the Washington Post, and Time Magazine. Dr. Krosnick also directs the Summer Institute in Political Psychology, an annual event that brings 60 students and professionals from around the world to Stanford for intensive training in political psychology theory and methods.