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Lacy: A theory of nonseparable preferences in survey responses

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Lacy. 2001. A theory of nonseparable preferences in survey responses. AJPS 45 (2).


Though Lacy credits Zaller and Feldman's (1992) effort to explain question-order effects and response instability, he criticizes their inability to predict which subjects will have the strongest question-order effects. (The closest Z&F come is an argument that those with more information about politics will have less instability.)

Solution and Example


On some pairs of issues, a segment of the population may have "nonseparable" preferences: preferences on A depend on the outcome of B. Question order effects occur when you ask about these issue A, then issue B, as if preferences between A and B were independent, not interactive.



The larger the portion of the population that has nonseparable preferences on issues A and B, the larger the question-order effects of questions about A and B on the same survey. (To the extent that our memories are not perfect, these effects depend on how far apart the questions about A and B are on the survey.)




Competing Hypotheses

Lacy tests his idea against Zaller and Feldman's suggestion that information matters, but his Lacy's measure of information is too civics-based. There are only three questions: what is Al Gore's current job, which party controls the House, and which party is more liberal. Lame. No wonder Table 3 doesn't find that information matters much.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Lacy, Dean (author)American PoliticsPublic OpinionSurveys and Measurement

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