Correspondence study field experiments with political elites are a recent addition to legislative studies research, in which unsolicited emails are sent to elites to gauge their responsiveness. In this article, we discuss their ethical implications. We advance from the viewpoint that correspondence study field experiments involve trade-offs between costs and benefits that need to be carefully weighted. We elaborate this argument with two contributions in mind. First, we synthesize ethical considerations in published work to explore what the specific trade-offs are and how they can be mitigated by experimental design. We conclude that correspondence study field experiments with political elites are worth pursuing given their potential to further good governance. But they also involve distinct trade-offs that are particularly challenging. Second, we draw from our own considerations while designing a comparative correspondence study field experiment and stress challenges resulting from cross-national designs. In sum, we aim to facilitate further reasoned discussion on an important methodological issue.
This work was supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Grant Number: ZI 608/8-1) and the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Grant Number: 464.18.108).