In surveys, respondents 'say what they mean and mean what they say'
Through four different experiments, this study tries to separate genuine belief in two polarizing conspiracy theories — "Obama is Muslim" and "9/11 was an inside job" — from expressive responses, sometimes called "partisan cheerleading." In the first experiment, respondents are explicitly asked to respond regardless of how they feel about the people and policies mentioned. In the second, some respondents were told that sometimes people "say they do believe [false rumors] so they can say something bad about the people and policies mentioned." In the third, respondents who rejected the rumor could skip to the end of the survey. In the fourth and final the rumor was inserted in a list of items respondents could agree or disagree with. Across the board, Berinsky found very low rates of expressive responding, leading him to conclude that “it seems that when people answer survey questions, they say what they mean and they mean what they say.”