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Working paper

WP158: Who’s asking? Interviewer coethnicity effects in African survey data

23 Jun 2015

Face-to-face interviews constitute a social interaction between interviewer and respondent, yet research employing African survey data typically fails to account for the effect of shared ethnicity on survey responses. We find that respondents give systematically different answers to coethnic and non-coethnic interviewers across surveys in 14 African countries, but with significant variation in the degree of bias across question types and countries, with the largest effects for explicitly ethnic questions and in countries where ethnicity is salient.

In South Africa, we show further variation across interviewer-respondent dyad type: Coracial effects are larger than coethnic effects – a pattern consistent with the salience of racial legacies in South Africa – and differences in the direction, size, and significance of these effects concord with dyad-specific social desirability. Our findings have practical implications for consumers of African survey data and underscore the context dependence of the social interaction that constitutes the survey experience.