William van der Veld, born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1969. M.A. from the University of Amsterdam. Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam.
Junior Fellow (1 September 2003 – 30 June 2004)
A NEW VIEW ON SURVEY RESEARCH
During my NIAS year, I was involved in the theme group A New View on Survey Research, coordinated by Willem Saris. This group focused on the process of question-answering in a survey context. Surveys have revolutionized social science since their introduction in the 1940s, and changed democratic societies. They provided the gold standard for measuring public opinion that is at the heart of democratic deliberation. Results from surveys are at the core of the journalistic understanding of politics and survey results have informed constitution writing and the writing of history. No other social science method has proven so valuable and influential. Although survey research findings are invaluable, knowledge about the process of question-answering is limited and scattered throughout the literature and different fields of science. It was my intention to study the errors made by respondents in this question-answering process due to the measurement instrument’s properties (the wording of the survey questions, among other things) and to develop a statistical model that could explain how a response comes about. My major findings have been reported in the article that is appropriately entitled “A new framework and model for the survey response process – Unifying P. Converse, C. Achen, and J. Zaller, and S. Feldman”. The starting point of the framework I developed at NIAS is that words in a survey question are represented in the brain by a network of nodes. These nodes contain cognition and affect about that word, and they can activate other nodes that are connected to it once a certain level of activation is reached. Words that are thought of – which could happen if the survey question is read – activate the nodes in the brain. The evaluation of the total of nodes that are still activated once the survey- question has been understood by the respondent is what we refer to as the opinion. However, this opinion is still not the same as the response on paper as this entails making a choice between the response options: matching opinion with the response options. It is assumed that this is where measurement error occurs. These results are a huge step in understanding more about the survey response process although there is still much more to be investigated. It is the intention of the theme group to continue researching this topic and to assemble a book of our accomplishments this year.