Attitude Stability and Attitude ChangeApril 18, 2011
ObjectivesBy the end of this meeting, you should be able to:Describe the main theories of individual attitude change.Argue whether or not public opinion is sufficiently informed or thought-out to make important choices.Discuss the contrast in aggregate and individual-level opinion stability.
Think About in GroupsHow much attention should the average individual pay attention to politics?What does survey research show about most individuals and their level of political sophistication?
The Lack of AwarenessIn late 1986when George Bush was halfway into his second term as vice-president of the United States, 24 percent of the general public either failed to recognize his name or could not say what office he held.People at this level of inattentiveness can have only the haziest idea of the policy alternatives about which pollsters regularly ask them to state opinions, and such ideas as they do have must often be relatively innocent of the effects of elite discourse (Zaller 1992, 16).
Micro Level Opinion1960: The American Voter (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes)Based on data from 1956 found that public broke down roughly into:12% Ideologues42% Group Benefit24% Nature of the Times22% No issue content
Micro Level OpinionMost voters are unable to name their elected representatives or the positions that national political figures holdVoters are also unable to identify other countries even those that have been extensively covered in the media
Knowledge and OpinionsWhile American voters are generally poorly informed, differences in information levels are related to certain differences in opinionsGenerally, better informed voters are more likely to favor more liberal attitudes on social and foreign policy issues than less well informed voters.On the other hand, less well informed voters are more likely to favor a more liberal attitudes towards government spending than the more well informed.
Depth of OpinionsGenerally opinions are not deeply held within the public1964: The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics (Converse) found: Lack of opinion constraintLow association (tau) between individuals attitudes toward similar issues (e.g., employment, education, federal housing).Opinion instabilityFor some issues, only 20% of the public have stable attitudes. The rest, non attitudesPanel Study
Does ideological inconsistency imply irrationality?
Depth of OpinionsPartisanship is by far the most stable opinion/attitude, but it can be thought of as more of a personal identifierMany people hold strong opinions on a small number of issuesAbortion is one of the most stable attitudesExperiments where people are exposed to counterarguments frequently found changes in opinions
Depth of OpinionsConverse is known for positing the idea of non-attitudes (sometimes referred to as a top of the head response)Other explanations for response instability:Measurement error Response probabilityWhich of these is most troubling for democracy?
The Problem of IdeologyIdeological terms like liberal and conservative are frequently used by academics, pundits and newspapers as a way to categorize issues, approaches and attitudesThese labels are very different by countryDespite their prevalence most voters are uncomfortable with the terms and frequently use them incorrectlyAmerican Voter (1960) Stimson
PartisanshipMost Americans (roughly 9 out of 10) classify themselves as partisan either strong, weak or leaningGenerally stronger partisans tend to be better informed and hold stronger and more extreme attitudes towards issuesCitizens are able to differentiate the parties on the issues and the sense that parties are further apart on the issues is growing in the electorate
Party IdentificationPsychological attachment or affective orientation (American Voter)Running Tally (Fiorina)
Converting Information into OpinionsFunctional theories: KatzUtilitarianEgo defenseKnowledgeValue-expressiveFunctional theories: Downs (1958)- voters use instrumental rationality or use a cost/benefit analysis when it comes to opinionsHow would this work?Does it seem likely to occur this way?
Converting Information into OpinionsLearning TheoryHovland, Janis, KellyTransfer of affectOn line processing (Lodge, Steenbergen and Brau)Elaboration Likelihood ModelCentral routePeripheral routeReceive-Accept-Sample (Zaller)What does it mean for survey design?
DiscussionIs the American public informed enough to make the necessary political choices?How do people with low levels of political information make political choices?Why is the public so poorly informed?Paradox of aggregate-level opinion.
For Next TimeRead Clawson & Oxley, Chapters 11 & 12Which would you rather have: Elected officials who stick to their campaign promises rigidly or elected officials who make policy decisions based on public opinion polls? Why?Given the evidence in chapter 11, would you say public policy in the U.S. is a clear reflection of public preferences? Why or why not?