The extent to which citizens comply with newly-enacted public health measures such as social distancing or lockdowns strongly affects the propagation of the virus and the number of deaths from COVID-19. It is however very difficult to identify non-compliance through survey research because claiming to follow the rules is socially desirable. Using three survey experiments, we examine the efficacy of different “face-saving” questions that aim to reduce social desirability in the measurement of compliance with public health measures. Our treatments soften the social norm of compliance by way of a short preamble in combination with a guilty-free answer choice making it easier for respondents to admit non-compliance. We find that self-reported non-compliance increases by up to +11 percentage points when making use of a face-saving question. Considering the current context and the importance of measuring non-compliance, we argue that researchers around the world should adopt our most efficient face-saving question.


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cite as

Daoust, J., Nadeau, R., Dassonneville, R., Lachapelle, E., Belanger, E., Savoie, J. & van der Linden, C. 2021, 'How to survey citizens’ compliance with COVID-19 public health measures: Evidence from three survey experiments', Journal of Experimental Political Science, 8(3), pp. 310-317. https://doi.org/10.1017/XPS.2020.25

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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