The Journal of Politics


Social Desirability and Response Validity: A Comparative Analysis of Overreporting Voter Turnout in Five Countries

Jeffrey A. Karpa1 c1 and David Brockingtona2 c2

a1 Texas Tech University and University of Twente, The Netherlands

a2 University of Plymouth


Theory and evidence suggests that respondents are likely to overreport voter turnout in election surveys because they have a strong incentive to offer a socially desirable response. We suggest that contextual influences may affect the socially desirable bias, leading to variance in the rate of overreporting across countries. This leads us to hypothesize that nonvoters will be more likely to overreport voting in elections that have high turnout. We rely on validated turnout data to measure overreporting in five countries which vary a great deal in turnout: Britain, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. We find that in national settings with higher levels of participation, the tendency to overreport turnout may be greater than in settings where low participation is the norm.

(Online publication June 18 2003)

(Received February 11 2003)


c1 Jeffrey A. Karp ( is assistant professor of political science, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, 79409–1015. He is also Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Governance Studies, University of Twente, The Netherlands.

c2 David Brockington ( is lecturer in sociology, politics and law, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK.