Much ado about acquiescence: The relative validity and reliability of construct-specific and agree–disagree questions


Acquiescence response bias, or the tendency to agree with questions regardless of content, is a prominent concern in survey design. An often proposed solution, and one that was recently implemented in the American National Election Study, is to rewrite response options so that they tap directly into the dimensions of the construct of interest. However, there is little evidence that this solution improves data quality. We present a study in which we employ two waves of the 2012 American National Election Study in order to compare the reliability and concurrent validity of political efficacy questions in both the agree–disagree and construct-specific formats. Construct-specific questions were not only as reliable and valid as agree–disagree questions generally, they were also as valid among respondents that were most likely to acquiesce. This suggests two possible outcomes: Either agree–disagree questions do not negatively impact data quality or that construct-specific questions are not a panacea for acquiescence response bias.

Research & Politics