Advantages, Challenges and Limitations of Audit Experiments with Constituents

Daniel Bischof, Gidon Cohen, Sarah Cohen, Florian Foos, Patrick Michael Kuhn*, Kyriaki Nanou, Neil Visalvanich, Nick Vivyan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


Audit experiments examining the responsiveness of public officials have become an increasingly popular tool used by political scientists. While these studies have brought significant insight into how public officials respond to different types of constituents, particularly those from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds, audit studies have also been controversial due to their frequent use of deception. Scholars have justified the use of deception by arguing that the benefits of audit studies ultimately outweigh the costs of deceptive practices. Do all audit experiments require the use of deception? This article reviews audit study designs differing in their amount of deception. It then discusses the organizational and logistical challenges of a UK study design where all letters were solicited from MPs’ actual constituents (so-called confederates) and reflected those constituents’ genuine opinions. We call on researchers to avoid deception, unless necessary, and engage in ethical design innovation of their audit experiments, on ethics review boards to raise the level of justification of needed studies involving fake identities and misrepresentation, and on journal editors and reviewers to require researchers to justify in detail which forms of deception were unavoidable.
Original languageEnglish
Article number147892992110378
Pages (from-to)192-200
Number of pages9
JournalPolitical Studies Review
Issue number2
Early online date8 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


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