Vote Overreporting While Black: Identifying the Mechanism Behind Black Survey Respondents’ Vote Overreporting

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(5) 439 –451
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211022189
Surveys have long been the most important way by which
social scientists learn about the public’s political opinions
and behavior, including whether or not they’ve decided to
turn out to vote. We’ve long known that some individuals
often report that they’ve voted in the most recent election
when, in fact, they have not—a phenomena known as over-
reporting (see e.g., Clausen, 1968; Traugott & Katosh, 1979).
This is readily apparent when one compares the percentage
of survey respondents in nationally representative surveys
who reported voting to the actual voter turnout rates in an
election, such as with the American National Election
Studies, which see overreport rates ranging from 8% to 21%
(Ansolabehere & Hersh, 2012; Belli et al., 2001; Enamorado
& Imai, 2020). Additionally, rates of overreporting vary
across demographic characteristics with African American
respondents estimated to overreport as much as 9-points
higher than their white counterparts (Bernstein et al., 2001).
In this paper, we revisit the phenomenon of African
American overreporting and test two explanations for why
Black respondents might overreport voting more than other
racial groups. We examine the social dynamics of the survey-
interview process, investigating how racial group identifica-
tion and the likely social pressure to conform with the norms
of Black political behavior encourages respondent overre-
porting. We find that the need to conform to norms of Black
political behavior, activated by the presence of Black inter-
viewers, appears to be the chief causal mechanism
underlying Black respondents’ overreporting in the ANES.
These results suggest that the common practice of race
matching Black interviewers with Black respondents may
greatly inflate Black voter turnout in surveys. In addition, we
suggest our theory and findings speak more broadly to the
sorts of social pressure that Black Americans may face in
everyday life to misreport the extent of their political behav-
ior to other individuals within their community. We engage
with this idea more substantively in the conclusion.
Overreporting: Overview and Causes
Perhaps the biggest challenge for those who wish to use sur-
vey data to accurately understand the causes or effects of
voter turnout is that individuals do not overreport voting at
the same rate. Instead, the likelihood that someone overre-
ports their turnout varies across a variety of demographic and
psychological factors including income, satisfaction with the
status-quo (Silver et al., 1986), education (e.g., Bernstein
1022189APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211022189American Politics ResearchJenkins et al.
1Birmingham-Southern College, AL, USA
2Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
3University of Maryland, College Park, USA
Corresponding Author:
Clinton Jenkins, Birmingham-Southern College, 900 Arkadelphia Road,
Birmingham, AL 35254, USA.
Vote Overreporting While Black:
Identifying the Mechanism Behind Black
Survey Respondents’ Vote Overreporting
Clinton Jenkins1, Ismail White2, Michael Hanmer3,
and Antoine Banks3
It is now a well-documented fact of survey research that Black survey respondents overreport turning out to vote at higher
rates than many of their peers of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. We bring renewed attention to this phenomenon
by investigating how the ways in which the race of the interviewer might influence a Back respondent’s propensity to
overreport turning out to vote. In this paper, we test two competing mechanisms for African American overreporting and
race of interviewer effects: (1) racial group linked fate, and (2) conformity with norms of Black political behavior. We find
support that social pressure to conform to group norms of political behavior is behind Black respondent’s overreporting in
the presence of a same-race interviewer. These results have significant implications for how we view, analyze, and consider
results from such studies.
turnout, Black political behavior, overreporting, turnout misreporting, survey analysis

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