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Advantages, Challenges and Limitations of Audit Experiments with Constituents

Bischof, Daniel and Cohen, Gidon and Cohen, Sarah and Foos, Florian and Kuhn, Patrick Michael and Nanou, Kyriaki and Visalvanich, Neil and Vivyan, Nick (2022) 'Advantages, Challenges and Limitations of Audit Experiments with Constituents.', Political Studies Review, 20 (2). pp. 192-200.


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.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
Date accepted:15 July 2021
Date deposited:09 August 2021
Date of first online publication:08 August 2021
Date first made open access:09 August 2021

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