Threat-Inducing Violent Events Exacerbate Social Desirability Bias in Survey Responses
By: Jaroslav Tir
A key challenge in survey research is social desirability bias: respondents feel pressured to report acceptable attitudes and behaviors. Building on established findings, we argue that threat-inducing violent events are a heretofore unaccounted for driver of social desirability bias. We probe this argument by investigating whether fatal terror attacks lead respondents to overreport past electoral participation, a well-known and measurable result of social desirability bias. Using a cross-national analysis and natural and survey experiments, we show that fatal terror attacks generate turnout overreporting. This highlights that threat-inducing violent events induce social desirability, that researchers need to account for the timing of survey fieldwork vis-à-vis such events, and that some of the previously reported post-violent conflict increases in political participation may be more apparent than real.