Eliciting People's First-Order Concerns

Text Analysis of Open-Ended Survey Question

Authors: Beatrice Ferrario and Stefanie Stantcheva

Publication: American Economic Association Papers and Proceedings 112: 163-69, 2022

Abstract: This paper illustrates the design and use of open-ended survey questions as a way of eliciting people’s first-order concerns on policies. Multiple choice questions are the backbone of most surveys, but they may prime respondents to select answer options that they would not naturally have thought about, and they may omit relevant options. Open-ended questions that do not constrain respondents with specific answer choices are a valuable tool for eliciting first-order thinking. We discuss three text analysis methods to analyze open-ended questions’ answers. To illustrate how to apply these methods, we provide evidence from large-scale surveys on income and estate taxation. We show the that key concerns relate mostly to distribution issues, fairness, and government, rather than to efficiency concerns. There are large partisan gaps in the first-order concerns on policies.