Americans are much more homophobic—and much more likely to have had a same-sex experience—than surveys done using traditional methods reveal, according to a new National Bureau of Economics Research working paper.
Ohio State University Professors Katherine Coffman and Lucas Coffman and Boston University School of Management Professor Keith Marzilli Ericson used a survey research method known as "veiled" reporting to test an array of statements on hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, homophobic beliefs, and history of same-sex experiences. Unlike traditional anonymous online-survey methods designed to elicit true answers on stigmatized beliefs or practices, this method groups questions so that respondents don't have to answer them directly.
For example, in a normal survey, a person would be asked to answer yes or no about a statement. But in veiled reporting, statements like "I consider myself a heterosexual" are grouped with a bunch of statements like "I remember where I was the day of the Challenger space shuttle disaster," and respondents are asked to say how many statements in the group are true, without having to specify which ones they are saying yes to. A gap between the responses of a control group answering directly and those answering through the veiled-questioning system has been shown to exist for questions where there is a "social desirability bias"—which is to say, where people are inclined to give what they think is the socially acceptable answer.