Do I Look and Sound Religious? Interviewer Religious Appearance and Attitude Effects on Respondents’ Answers

Research has shown that interviewers can significantly affect survey respondents' reported attitudes and behaviors. Several interviewer characteristics have been found to partially explain variation in respondents' answers across interviewers, particularly when questions are related to interviewers' observable characteristics such as gender, race, and age. However, less is known about if and how interviewers' religious appearance and religious attitudes affect survey responses and, more specifically, reports about religious attitudes. Collecting accurate information on religious attitudes is important, given the sensitivity of this information across the globe and the growing interest in understanding religious perceptions and misconceptions. This paper is the first to investigate (a) the independent effects and the interplay between interviewers' religious veil status and interviewers' religious attitudes on respondents' reported religious attitudes and (b) the magnitude of the interviewer variance explained by interviewers' religious characteristics. The data comes from a nationally representative survey of religious and political attitudes in Tunisia carried out in 2013. Data from the survey also includes information about interviewers' characteristics (including veil status for females) and interviewers' own religious attitudes based on their responses to the same survey questions asked of respondents. Results showed that respondents interviewed by veiled female interviewers reported greater religiosity than respondents interviewed by unveiled female interviewers. Equally important were interviewers' religious attitudes, which also independently affected the corresponding attitudes of respondents and explained a substantial percentage of the between-interviewer variance for several outcomes. The effect of interviewers' attitudes on respondents' attitudes was not stronger among veiled interviewers. Our investigation also revealed that the effect of interviewers' attitudes on respondents' reported attitudes operated somewhat differently for male and female respondents depending on the specific survey items. Future studies are needed to explore the mechanism(s) underlying these effects.