Volume 81, Number 6

December 2006

Welfare Polls: A Synthesis

Matthew D. Adler

“Welfare polls” are survey instruments that seek to quantify the determinants of human well-being. Currently, three welfare polling formats are dominant: contingent valuation (CV) surveys, quality-adjusted life year (QALY) surveys, and happiness surveys. Each format has generated a large, specialized, scholarly literature, but no comprehensive discussion of welfare polling as a general enterprise exists. This Article seeks to fill that gap.

Part I describes the trio of existing formats. Part II discusses the current and potential uses of welfare polls in governmental decisionmaking. Part III analyzes in detail the obstacles that welfare polls must overcome to provide useful well-being information, and concludes that they can be genuinely informative. Part IV synthesizes the case for welfare polls, arguing against two types of challenges: the revealed-preference tradition in economics, which insists on using behavior rather than surveys to learn about well-being; and the civic republican tradition in political theory, which accepts surveys but insists that respondents should be asked to take a “citizen” rather than “consumer” perspective. Part V suggests new directions for welfare polls.