Quality & Quantity (2006) 40:259–288 © Springer 2006
Attitudes toward Surveys, Attitude Accessibility
and the Effect on Respondents’ Susceptibility to
University of Mannheim, Sonderforschungsbereich 504, D-68131 Mannheim, Germany.
Abstract. This paper analyzes whether respondents’ attitudes toward surveys explain their
susceptibility to item nonresponse. In contrast to previous studies, the decision to refuse to
provide income information, not to answer other questions and the probability of ‘don’t
know’ responses is tested separately. Furthermore, the interviewers’ overall judgments of
response willingness was included as well. Respondents with a positive and cognitively acces-
sible attitude toward surveys were expected to adopt a cooperative orientation and were thus
deemed more likely to answer difﬁcult as well as sensitive questions. Attitudes were mea-
sured with a 16-item instrument and the response latencies were used as an indicator for
attitude accessibility. We found that respondents with more favorable evaluations of surveys
had lower values on all kinds of nonresponse indicators. Except for the strong effect on the
prevalence of ‘don’t knows’, survey attitudes were increasingly more predictive for all other
aspects of nonresponse when these attitude answers were faster and thus cognitively more
accessible. This accessibility, and thus how relevant survey attitudes are for nonresponse, was
found to increase with the subjects’ exposure to surveys in the past.
Key words: attitude accessibility, attitude toward surveys, don’t know responses, item nonre-
sponse, question refusal, response latencies, survey experience.
The extent of nonresponse is an important determinant for the quality of
survey data. An extensive number of studies have analyzed those factors
relevant for the decision to take part in survey interviews and thus the
prevalence of unit nonresponse (for an overview, cf.: Groves et al., 2002).
Much less research has been done about when and why respondents fail
to answer particular survey questions. Some socioeconomic characteristics,
such as for instance the respondents’ sex, age and education, were found
to be correlates of item nonresponse (Pickery and Loosveldt, 1998; Singer
et al., 2000). Other studies have shown reduced nonresponse when subjects
received prepaid incentives to encourage interview participation (Davern