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Middle alternatives revisited: how the neither/nor response acts as a way of saying "i don't know"?

Sturgis, Patrick ORCID: 0000-0003-1180-3493, Roberts, Caroline and Smith, Patten (2014) Middle alternatives revisited: how the neither/nor response acts as a way of saying "i don't know"? Sociological Methods and Research, 43 (1). pp. 15-38. ISSN 0049-1241

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0049124112452527

Abstract

A persistent problem in the design of bipolar attitude questions is whether or not to include a middle response alternative. On the one hand, it is reasonable to assume that people might hold opinions which are 'neutral' with regard to issues of public controversy. On the other, question designers suspect that offering a mid-point may attract respondents with no opinion, or those who lean to one side of an issue but do not wish to incur the cognitive costs required to determine a directional response. Existing research into the effects of offering a middle response alternative has predominantly used a split-ballot design, in which respondents are assigned to conditions which offer or omit a midpoint. While this body of work has been useful in demonstrating that offering or excluding a mid-point substantially influences the answers respondents provide, it does not offer any clear resolution to the question of which format yields more accurate data. In this paper, we use a different approach. We use follow-up probes administered to respondents who initially select the mid-point to determine whether they selected this alternative in order to indicate opinion neutrality, or to indicate that they do not have an opinion on the issue. We find the vast majority of responses turn out to be what we term 'face-saving don't knows' and that reallocating these responses from the mid-point to the don't know category significantly alters descriptive and multivariate inferences. Counter to the survey-satisficing perspective, we find that those with this tendency is greatest amongst those who express more interest in the topic area.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/smr
Additional Information: © 2012 The Authors
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2019 12:24
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2021 02:13
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/101999

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