Graeme Blair bio photo

Pre-Doctoral Fellow
Columbia University

      E-mail     Google Scholar       Twitter

Peer-reviewed publications

Blair, Graeme, Kosuke Imai, and Yang-Yang Zhou. 2015. “Design and Analysis of the Randomized Response Technique.” Journal of the American Statistical Association. PDF. Replication data. Abstract +/-

About a half century ago, Warner (1965) proposed the randomized response method as a survey technique to reduce potential bias due to non-response and social desirability when asking questions about sensitive behaviors and beliefs. This survey methodology asks respondents to use a randomization device, such as a coin flip, whose outcome is unobserved by the enumerator. By introducing random noise, the method conceals individual responses and consequently protects respondent privacy. While numerous methodological advances have been made, we find surprising few applications of this promising survey technique. In this paper, we address this gap by (1) reviewing standard designs available to applied researchers, (2) developing various multivariate regression techniques for substantive analyses, (3) proposing power analyses to help improve research designs, (4) presenting new robust designs that are based on less stringent assumptions than those of the standard designs, and (5) making all described methods available through open-source software. We illustrate some of these methods with an original survey about militant groups in Nigeria.

Blair, Graeme, Kosuke Imai, and Jason Lyall. 2014. “Comparing and Combining List and Endorsement Experiments: Evidence from Afghanistan.” American Journal of Political Science 58(4): 1043–63. PDF. Replication data. Abstract +/-

Coverage in the World Bank Development Impact blog

List and endorsement experiments are becoming increasingly popular among social scientists as indirect survey techniques for sensitive questions. When studying issues such as racial prejudice and support for militant groups, these survey methodologies may improve the validity of measurements by reducing non-response and social desirability biases. We develop a statistical test and multivariate regression models for comparing and combining the results from list and endorsement experiments. We demonstrate that when carefully designed and analyzed, the two survey experiments can produce substantively similar empirical findings. Such agreement is shown to be possible even when these experiments are applied to one of the most challenging research environments: contemporary Afghanistan. We find that both experiments uncover similar patterns of support for the International Security Assistance Force among Pashtun respondents. Our findings suggest that multiple measurement strategies can enhance the credibility of empirical conclusions. Open-source software is available for implementing the proposed methods.

Lyall, Jason, Graeme Blair, and Kosuke Imai. 2013. “Explaining Support for Combatants during Wartime: A Survey Experiment in Afghanistan.” American Political Science Review 107(4): 679–705. PDF. Replication data. Abstract +/-

Winner of the Pi Sigma Alpha Award for the best paper delivered at the 2012 MPSA Conference. Read unabbreviated award version.
Coverage in the Monkey Cage blog, the World Bank Development Impact blog, and the Huffington Post

How are civilian attitudes toward combatants affected by wartime victimization? Are these effects conditional on which combatant inflicted the harm? We investigate the determinants of wartime civilian attitudes towards combatants using a survey experiment across 204 villages in five Pashtun-dominated provinces of Afghanistan — the heart of the Taliban insurgency. We use endorsement experiments to indirectly elicit truthful answers to sensitive questions about support for different combatants. We demonstrate that civilian attitudes are asymmetric in nature. Harm inflicted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is met with reduced support for ISAF and increased support for the Taliban, but Taliban-inflicted harm does not translate into greater ISAF support. We combine a multistage sampling design with hierarchical modeling to estimate ISAF and Taliban support at the individual, village, and district levels, permitting a more fine-grained analysis of wartime attitudes than previously possible.

Blair, Graeme, Christine Fair, Neil Malhotra, and Jacob N. Shapiro. 2013. “Poverty and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan.” American Journal of Political Science 57(1): 30–48. PDF. Supporting materials. Replication data. Abstract +/-

Policy debates on strategies to end extremist violence frequently cite poverty as a root cause of support for the perpetrating groups. There is little evidence to support this contention, particularly in the Pakistani case. Pakistan’s urban poor are more exposed to the negative externalities of militant violence, and may in fact be less supportive of the groups. To test these hypotheses we conducted a 6000-person, nationally representative survey of Pakistanis that measured affect towards four militant organizations. By applying a novel measurement strategy, we mitigate the item non-response and social desirability biases that plagued previous studies due to the sensitive nature of militancy. Contrary to expectations, poor Pakistanis dislike militants more than middle-class citizens. This dislike is strongest among the urban poor, particularly those in violent districts, suggesting that exposure to terrorist attacks reduces support for militants. Longstanding arguments tying support for violent organizations to income may require substantial revision.

Blair, Graeme, and Kosuke Imai. 2012. “Statistical Analysis of List Experiments.” Political Analysis 20(1): 47–77. PDF. Supporting materials. Replication data. Abstract +/-

Selected for "Greatest Hits” issue of Political Analysis of “eight papers, published in the last two years, that we believe are making important contemporary contributions to political methodology.”

The validity of empirical research often relies upon the accuracy of self-reported behavior and beliefs. Yet eliciting truthful answers in surveys is challenging, especially when studying sensitive issues such as racial prejudice, corruption, and support for militant groups. List experiments have attracted much attention recently as a potential solution to this measurement problem. Many researchers, however, have used a simple difference-in-means estimator, which prevents the efficient examination of multivariate relationships between respondents’ characteristics and their responses to sensitive items. Moreover, no systematic means exists to investigate the role of underlying assumptions. We fill these gaps by developing a set of new statistical methods for list experiments. We identify the commonly invoked assumptions, propose new multivariate regression estimators, and develop methods to detect and adjust for potential violations of key assumptions. For empirical illustration, we analyze list experiments concerning racial prejudice. Open-source software is made available to implement the proposed methodology.

Working papers

Blair, Graeme, Rebecca Littman, and Elizabeth Levy Paluck. 2014. “Inciting Action Against Corruption in Nigeria: A Large-Scale Field Experiment in the Niger Delta.” Design pre-registration. Abstract +/-

Can collective action campaigns motivate citizen action to tackle institutional problems such as corruption? We address this question through a field experiment in the oil rich region of Nigeria, a country awash in corruption at all levels of society. We use a randomized time series design to measure the influence of two interventions aimed at encouraging Nigerians to report corruption via text message at zero cost: an original feature-length film produced for the study depicting characters sending text message reports of corruption aimed at altering perceptions that corruption reporting is atypical in Nigeria, and a text message "blast" inviting recipients to hit reply to report corruption at no cost, to lower the logistical and material costs of corruption reporting. Two versions of the film were distributed in 50 each, a total of 30,000 copies; and over half a million people were sent the text message blast treatment in these communities. We find that the social norms campaign included in a treatment version of the film did not yield any change in perceptions of the peer social consensus of corruption reporting. The norms campaign, however, did produce a substantial change in personal attitudes toward corruption. Additionally, there is tiny but detectable effect of the overall film campaign on the number of corruption-related messages sent via text, but no effect of the additional scenes in the film depicting characters modeling the corruption reporting behavior. Finally, we find that the text message blast aimed at lowering the costs of action had a substantial effect on the number of corruption-related messages sent to the platform.

Invited contributions

Blair, Graeme. 2015. “Survey Methods for Sensitive Topics.” APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter. PDF.