Abstract

Much empirical work in the social sciences relies on the accuracy of survey responses. Of all the questions answered by survey respondents, few are as common as those concerning income: Income is a crucial determinant of an individual’s attitudes and behaviors and a standard correlate in political science survey research. This paper uses Danish administrative records to identify systematic error in survey respondents’ self-reported income. We show that income overreporting is most pronounced among individuals who share the characteristics of high-income individuals, in ways that suggest the presence of social desirability bias. Further, this leads to biased estimates and distorted conclusions in a number of common applications in political science, but a simple logarithmic transformation eliminates the bias. More broadly, our results indicate that to understand the income–attitudes nexus in a given context, survey researchers should take into account social desirability bias and the pattern of income misreporting in that context.

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