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Measuring Generalized Trust. An Examination of Question Wording and the Number of Scale Points

Journal article
Authors Sebastian Lundmark
Mikael Gilljam
Stefan Dahlberg
Published in Public Opinion Quarterly
Volume 80
Issue 1
Pages 26-43
ISSN 0033-362X
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 26-43
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfv042
Keywords social trust, Communication
Subject categories Political Science

Abstract

Survey institutes recently have changed their measurement of generalized trust from the standard dichotomous scale to an 11-point scale. Additionally, numerous survey institutes use different question wordings: where most rely on the standard, fully balanced question (asking if "most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people"), some use minimally balanced questions, asking only if it is "possible to trust people." By using two survey-embedded experiments, one with 12,009 self-selected respondents and the other with a probability sample of 2,947 respondents, this study evaluates the generalized trust question in terms of question wording and number of scale points used. Results show that, contrary to the more commonly used standard question format (used, for example, by the American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey), generalized trust is best measured with a minimally balanced question wording accompanied with either a seven-or an 11-point scale.

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