Measuring Time Preferences in Large Surveys

Time preferences may explain public opinion about a wide range of long-term policy problems whose costs and benefits will be realized in the distant future. However, mass publics may discount these costs and benefits because they are later or because they are more uncertain. Standard methods to elicit individual-level time preferences tend to conflate attitudes toward risk and time and are susceptible to social desirability bias. A potential solution relies on a costly lab-experimental method, convex time budgets (CTB). We present and experimentally validate an affordable version of this approach for implementation in mass surveys. We find that the theoretically preferred CTB patience measure predicts attitudes toward a local, delayed investment problem but fails to predict support for more complex, future-oriented policies. These results have implications for studying the mass politics of dynamic policy problems.