GSS and ANES: Alike Yet Different

1 Jan

The General Social Survey (GSS), run out of National Opinion Research Center at University of Chicago, and American National Election Studies (ANES), which until recently ran out of University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, are two preeminent surveys tracking over-time trends in social and political attitudes, beliefs and behavior of the US adult population.

Outside of their shared Midwestern roots, GSS and ANES also share sampling design – both use a stratified random sample, with selection of PSUs affected by necessities of in-person interviewing, and during the 1980s and 1990s, sampling frame. However, in spite of this relative close coordination in sampling, common mode of interview, responses to few questions asked identically in the two surveys diverge systematically.

In 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008, GSS and ANES included exact same questions on racial trait ratings. Limiting the sample to just White respondents, mean difference in trait ratings of Whites and Blacks was always greater in ANES – ratings of hardwork and intelligence, almost always statistically significantly so.

Separately, difference in proportion of self-identified Republicans estimated by ANES and GSS is declining over time.

This unexplained directional variance poses a considerable threat to inference. The problem takes additional gravity given that the surveys are the bedrock of important empirical research in social science.