BOX 8-1
Experiments in Surveys About Race: An Example

The use of a “split ballot” experiment embedded in a large-scale national survey enables researchers to draw inferences about the general population of responders to surveys with samples that are larger and more diverse than the student population in a typical laboratory experiment. Gilens (1996) used such an experiment within a sample survey to examine whites’ racial attitudes and views about welfare using data from the 1991 National Race and Politics Study. The survey respondents were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: Half were asked about their beliefs regarding black welfare mothers and half about their beliefs regarding white welfare mothers. Under the assumption that the two groups are interchangeable—guaranteed (on average) by randomization—a difference in the evaluation of welfare provides an estimate of the degree to which race coding may be implicated in white opposition to welfare. The results showed that whites viewed black and white welfare mothers similarly but had more negative views of black welfare mothers when considering policies on welfare. As in laboratory experiments, there may be a difference between responding to questions in a survey and acting in a discriminatory fashion in settings that affect others. Yet as Gilens demonstrates, determining how such attitudinal differences relate to behavioral differences (such as differences in political choices) is important.

dated measures of the occurrence of unequal treatment (see Smith, 2002). The most valuable of these items measures the level of discrimination experienced by individuals or the level of discrimination experienced by particular groups or venues. Questions about the overall level of discrimination without regard to personal experiences, groups, or venues are probably too general to be of much use.

Imperfect Relationship of Attitudes to Behaviors

Smith (2002:14) notes that “many of the questions on intergroup relations in the holdings of the Roper Center or on the GSS provide important information on the state of intergroup relations and help one to understand the context and causes of discrimination, public support for policies to combat discrimination, and related matters.” However, relatively few surveys attempt to measure the incidence of discrimination directly at either the individual or the collective level. Smith continues: “Given that only a mod-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement