List Experiment 1 (1)

Why should you use private opinion research?

The why

Public opinion surveys and other forms of social science research are a necessary input into an efficient, successful organization. Accurate opinion research informs lawmakers and business leaders about the priorities of their constituents and offers the opportunity to make informed decisions.

Enormous amounts of resources are used to survey thousands of Americans every day about everything from their opinions on social and cultural issues to their support for political candidates. And even more resources are allocated based on the results of those surveys.

Getting it “right” has never been more important. But oftentimes public surveys get it wrong. 

Private opinion methods are survey methods designed specifically to elicit people’s true opinions in the presence of distorting filters, like strong social conformity pressures, complex tradeoffs, and leaky abstractions.


Uncover your audience's true opinions


Reduce bias and preference falsification


Reveal the gap between public and private opinion

When should you use private opinion research?

The when

Even though private opinion methods offer solutions to impediments like preference falsification and conformity bias, they aren’t always the advised method. Oftentimes, when there isn’t any threat of distorting filters, a simple direct question method is the best tool for the job. 

Furthermore, even when private methods are deemed worthy, which one should a savvy survey methodologist select? Private opinion methods are not “one-size-fits-all.” Check out our whitepaper to learn more about when it's appropriate to use Private Opinion Research


If you're worried that your question is too sensitive


If you think your audience is pressured by society to answer


If your audience needs to make trade-off decisions

What are our methodological options?

The how

  • List Experiment

    A list experiment is a method for indirectly measuring private opinion for sensitive issues where individuals might otherwise be likely to publicly withhold their true opinion.


    The list experiment works by guaranteeing privacy. Unlike traditional polling methods, respondents are never asked to directly share their opinion for individual statements. Instead, respondents are asked to read a list of statements and choose the number with which they agree.

  • Conjoint Analysis

    Choice-based conjoint (CBC) analysis is a methodology that is widely used in the field of market research to illuminate preferences of individuals by forcing respondents to make a tradeoff. CBC asks respondents to make a decision based on features of a product, service, or anything, really.

    Rather than directly asking survey respondents what they prefer or find most important, CBC experiments impose a realistic context in which an individual must make a decision. A conjoint task, or decision task, involves deciding between two choices that include various features of the concept being tested.

  • MaxDiff Analysis

    Preferences aren’t always tangible, especially when they are asked directly. Not only can preferences be elusive, but they can be difficult to interpret without a standard method of comparison. 

    A MaxDiff experiment solves many of the problems inherent to traditional methods of asking consumer preferences by forcing a series of real-life tradeoffs. At Gradient, we harness the combined power of MaxDiffs and Bayesian statistics to produce not only a rank order of consumer preferences, but also the magnitude of preferences.

Private Opinion Research Case Studies

List Experiment 2

Private Versus Public Opinions about Diversity in the Judicial System

Trendlines Public Opinion Survey

The Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson brought with it questions about America’s opinions on adding diversity to major political positions. If asked directly most individuals would say they support increases in diversity as to not seem racist. Thus, to better gauge how Americans really feel about diversity, a list experiment is needed.

The fruitfulness of the list experiment was evident when comparing the public and private opinions across political parties. Roughly one in four Republicans (24%) publicly admitted it's important to have more Black Americans in positions of power in the judicial system—the same proportion who agreed with the statement, even when guaranteed privacy (25%). 

In contrast, while 69% of Democrats publicly agreed it’s important to have more Black Americans in positions of power in the judicial system, that number decreased to under half (47%) when responding to the statement privately.

Read the full story →

How Americans Define Success

Client Case Study

Gradient Metrics pushed a conjoint experiment to its limits, and designed an innovative approach to measuring success.

After an initial prototyping phase, our new methodology was rolled out on a national scale and has transformed how our client thinks about measuring Americans’ priorities across many domains.

Read the full story →
List Experiment 6

Populace Insights: Private Opinion in America

Client Case Study

Americans don’t feel like they live in a democracy of opinion—that is, Americans don’t feel comfortable voicing their true thoughts when they are counter to perceived societal consensus. This lack of public honesty creates widespread preference falsification to the point that systems and institutions are designed with a purpose with which many Americans actually disagree

We designed a landmark study, using several list experiments, to measure the difference between publicly stated and privately held opinions for several sensitive statements about politics, culture, and society ranging from abortion to COVID-19 to what’s taught in public schools.

Americans of all different backgrounds feel pressure to self-censor. Across all demographics, every subgroup of Americans had large gaps between private and public opinion—oftentimes large enough to drive a bus (hopefully not full of migrants) through—depending on the topic and sensitive statement.

Download the case study →

Who we’ve partnered with

The world's most forward-looking organizations trust Gradient


Want to learn more?