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Attitudes, Uncertainty and Survey Responses

Alvarez, R. Michael and Franklin, Charles H. (1996) Attitudes, Uncertainty and Survey Responses. Social Science Working Paper, 969. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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Theory: We assume that survey respondents are uncertain about their attitudes, and that their attitudes about political issues can be understood as probability distributions. From this perspective, we derive the "expected value" survey response model. We also derive a dynamic model of attitude change, based on the notion that attitudes are uncertain. Hypotheses: This perspective on political attitudes leads to two predictions. The first is that uncertain respondents will show less variance in responses than certain respondents, and that the less certain will tend to give responses towards the midpoint of issue placement scales. The second is that uncertain respondents will have less stable opinions about political issues over time. Methods: These hypotheses are tested using new survey questions we have developed to measure respondent uncertainty. These survey questions have been included in three recent national surveys, two conducted by the Letters and Sciences Survey Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the other by the National Election Studies. Results: We demonstrate that uncertain respondents are more likely that certain respondents to provide issue placements at the midpoint of the scale, controlling for many factors. Also, we show that uncertain respondents have less stable political attitudes than certain respondents.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Alvarez, R. Michael0000-0002-8113-4451
Additional Information:We acknowledge the contributions of seminar discussants at University of California-Riverside, University of California-San Diego, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology. We thank the Letters and Science Survey Center of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for support of our data collection. Some of the data we use in this paper were originally collected by the National Election Studies, and were distributed by the Inter-university Consortium for Social and Political Research. Alvarez thanks the John M. Olin Foundation for the support of his research through a Faculty Fellowship.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Funding AgencyGrant Number
John M. Olin FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:969
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170816-140007624
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:80496
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:17 Aug 2017 17:19
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:18

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