Timepieces: Components of Survey Question Response Latencies



Political scientists have increasingly found that the time respondents require to answer survey questions is a useful measure of the strength of political attitudes. However, questions remain about the collection, use, and interpretation of response time data— particularly latencies collected during telephone interviews, far removed from the controlled environment of a laboratory setting. This paper uses a theoretical model of question response to decompose survey response time data into three hypothesized elements—components of response time attributable to baseline individual differences, systematic question effects, and the accessibility of the attitudes being targeted. These findings have implications for the study of political attitudes and other mental constructs, as well as practical implications for public opinion survey researchers using response time data.