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Improving Public Opinion Surveys

Improving Public Opinion Surveys: Interdisciplinary Innovation and the American National Election Studies

John H. Aldrich
Kathleen M. McGraw
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 402
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  • Book Info
    Improving Public Opinion Surveys
    Book Description:

    The American National Election Studies (ANES) is the premier social science survey program devoted to voting and elections. Conducted during the presidential election years and midterm Congressional elections, the survey is based on interviews with voters and delves into why they make certain choices. In this edited volume, John Aldrich and Kathleen McGraw bring together a group of leading social scientists that developed and tested new measures that might be added to the ANES, with the ultimate goal of extending scholarly understanding of the causes and consequences of electoral outcomes.

    The contributors--leading experts from several disciplines in the fields of polling, public opinion, survey methodology, and elections and voting behavior--illuminate some of the most important questions and results from the ANES 2006 pilot study. They look at such varied topics as self-monitoring in the expression of political attitudes, personal values and political orientations, alternate measures of political trust, perceptions of similarity and disagreement in partisan groups, measuring ambivalence about government, gender preferences in politics, and the political issues of abortion, crime, and taxes.

    Testing new ideas in the study of politics and the political psychology of voting choices and turnout, this collection is an invaluable resource for all students and scholars working to understand the American electorate.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4029-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Part 1 The American National Election Studies:: The “Gold Standard” for Survey Research

    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction to the Volume
      (pp. 3-8)
      John H. Aldrich and Kathleen M. McGraw

      Public opinion surveys provide insights into a very large range of social, economic, and political phenomena. In this book, we look at the survey itself as the means by which the scholarly community seeks to understand those phenomena. A survey can be understood as a collection of ideas at the forefront both of what the scholarly community believes to be important for understanding opinion and behavior and of how that community thinks those ideas may best be measured and evaluated. In this volume, we have the opportunity to report the results of testing a large variety of the best new...

    • CHAPTER 2 The American National Election Studies and the Importance of New Ideas
      (pp. 9-22)
      Jon A. Krosnick and Arthur Lupia

      Millions of Americans participate in elections for the president and Congress of the United States. These elections draw great attention from every corner of the nation. In the months leading up to each Election Day, news and opinions about candidates are the focus of numerous newspaper headlines, television programs, and websites. Questions about many election-related topics are brought to the fore. Some topics remain focal for the duration of the campaign. Others fade into obscurity. The influence of all such news extends beyond the media and into many workplace discussions and dinner-table conversations. After the votes are cast and the...

  4. Part 2 Individual Predispositions

    • [PART 2 Introduction]
      (pp. 25-26)

      Citizens enter the world of politics with a wide range of individual characteristics that shape their judgments and behavior in other domains. The first set of chapters explores the measurement and impact of individual psychological orientations that are not overtly political. In chapter 3, Adam Berinsky and How­ard Lavine consider self-monitoring, which assesses the extent to which people modify their behavior in response to the social context. Berinsky and Lavine argue that self-monitoring can be useful in understanding which respondents are motivated to misrepresent their real preferences in surveys, and they present several intriguing analyses that point to the value...

    • CHAPTER 3 Self-Monitoring and Political Attitudes
      (pp. 27-45)
      Adam J. Berinsky and Howard Lavine

      Social scientists have long appreciated the influence of social context on the public expression of attitudes (Aquilino 1994; Tourangeau et al. 2000). In a climate governed by tolerant beliefs, analysts of public opinion confront a series of troubling questions about the accuracy with which attitudes and beliefs in sensitive domains (for example, race, sexuality) are measured. Specifically, what social conditions render it more or less likely that survey respondents will provide a faithful account of their racial attitudes in an interviewer-mediated setting? To what extent are the political effects of prejudice currently obscured by researchers’ inability to obtain definitive information...

      (pp. 46-62)
      Julia Albarracín, Wei Wang and Dolores Albarracín

      People’s confidence in their ability to defend their positions against attacks—defensive confidence—can influence information-search and social-interaction patterns and consequently can induce attitudinal and behavioral change. For example, people who are high in defensive confidence are more likely to examine counter-attitudinal information and, as a result, change those attitudes (Albarracín and Mitchell 2004). This finding contradicts the common wisdom that compared to individuals who doubt their defensive abilities, those who are confident will belesslikely to change their attitudes or to act in ways that contradict those attitudes. One reason for this counterintuitive finding is that those with...

    • CHAPTER 5 Basic Personal Values and Political Orientations
      (pp. 63-82)
      Shalom H. Schwartz

      In the United States and many Western democracies, the individual personalities of voters rather than their social locations in various interest groups are presumably becoming decisive for political choice (see, for example, Caprara and Zimbardo 2004). This shift may reflect the declining distinctiveness and extremity of parties as they seek the political center, the increased complexity of political issues, growing interdependence among political units, and greater concern in the electorate with social relations and intimacy (see, for example, Wattenberg 1998).

      Early research on personality in politics dealt mainly with the dispositions, attitudes, and motives of voters and leaders. A broad...

    • CHAPTER 6 Value Constellations and American Political Life
      (pp. 83-100)
      Steven Hitlin and Katherine W. O. Kramer

      The study of values is undergoing a resurgence in the social sciences (for overviews, see Hitlin and Piliavin 2004; Rohan 2000). The media has framed recent political events as having been influenced by “values voters,” suggesting that academic interest in values mirrors popular notions. In this chapter, we build on the work of other scholars who advocated for the use of values in the 2006 ANES Pilot Study to illustrate the utility of a different approach to analyzing values in American political life. Other contributors have already offered analyses of the value items treated as independent entities (see chapter 5,...

    • CHAPTER 7 Generalized Trust Questions
      (pp. 101-112)
      Eric M. Uslaner

      The ANES and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) will begin a long-term collaboration focusing on parent-child socialization. This collaboration offers a unique opportunity to trace the roots of youth socialization on political and social attitudes. The ANES-NLSY surveys will include key measures of social capital—most notably, generalized trust. The ANES and NLSY have traditionally used different questions to measure generalized trust. The 2006 ANES Pilot Study asked both questions (as well as two new measures). The ANES may change the wording of the traditional “standard” question to the NLSY measure—or perhaps to one of the two...

  5. Part 3 Political Orientations and the Media

    • CHAPTER 8 An Alternative Measure of Political Trust RECONCILING THEORY AND PRACTICE
      (pp. 117-136)
      Joseph Gershtenson and Dennis L. Plane

      Political trust is helpful, perhaps essential, for democratic government. In fact, democratic society is unlikely to emerge without political trust (Dahl 1971). Trust makes everyday life easier, less complex, and more orderly—qualities that increase democratic stability and lower citizen angst (Barber 1983). In addition, trust increases voluntary compliance with laws, without which democratic government would be untenable (Tyler 1990; Tyler and Degoey 1995; Levi 1997; Scholz and Lubell 1998). In short, it makes democracy work (Putnam 1993).

      In addition to broad, systemic effects, trust is relevant for more immediate political attitudes and behaviors. For example, Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (2002)...

    • CHAPTER 9 Measuring Political Interest
      (pp. 137-157)
      Danielle Shani

      Few variables are as central for studying democratic politics as political interest, which often figures as the single most important variable in explaining political knowledge (Luskin 1990), political participation (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995), and many other political phenomena. Yet scholars have paid scant attention to conceptualizing, theorizing, and measuring this key concept. As the American Political Science Association’s Task Force on Civic Education and Engagement wrote in its report, “It is perplexing that political scientists have not shown more recent interest, as it were, in political interest” (Macedo et al. 2005, 35).

      To make progress in understanding citizens’ interest...

    • CHAPTER 10 Do We Still Need Media Use Measures at All?
      (pp. 158-174)
      Scott L. Althaus and David H. Tewksbury

      The degree to which people seek and retain information about politics is a key variable for understanding why people think, feel, and act as they do politically. But measuring information acquisition has proven to be fraught with challenges. As a consequence, in recent years political scientists have shifted their measurement strategies to focus on information retention, most commonly in the form of factual knowledge questions. Interest in this approach has grown so much that some political scientists have begun to question whether the traditional media exposure measures are still worth asking.

      In this chapter, we argue that while the American...

    • CHAPTER 11 Sociotropic Voting and the Media
      (pp. 175-190)
      Stephen Ansolabehere, Marc Meredith and Erik Snowberg

      The literature on economic voting notes that voters’ subjective evaluations of the overall state of the economy are correlated with vote choice, whereas personal economic experiences are not (Kinder and Kiewiet 1979, 1981). Missing from this literature is a description of how voters acquire information about the general state of the economy and use that information to form perceptions. To begin understanding this process, we asked a series of questions on the 2006 ANES Pilot Study about respondents’ perceptions of the average price of gas and the unemployment rate in their home states. In this chapter, we analyze both the...

  6. Part 4 Perceptions of Political Institutions and Groups

    • [PART 4 Introduction]
      (pp. 193-194)

      This fourth section of the volume is broadly concerned with perceptions of political institutions and groups. In chapter 12, Eric Whitaker and John Ful­wider examine the extent to which out-group homogeneity (that is, perceiving out-group members to be very similar to one another, and in-group members to be more diverse) exists in partisans’ views of Democrats and Republicans. Overall, Republicans are seen as more similar to one another, and in greater agreement among themselves, than are Democrats, and there is some evidence of the out-group homogeneity effect among strong partisans. While not directly predictive of turnout and vote choice, perceptions...

    • CHAPTER 12 Perceptions of Similarity and Agreement in Partisan Groups
      (pp. 195-219)
      Eric A. Whitaker and John M. Fulwider

      Groups can have powerful effects on people. While psychologists have long appreciated this observation, political scientists have been slower to fully accept it. As Randall Calvert explains, economic models of behavior, long popular in political science, “combined a purely instrumental, self-interest model of political action with the need for low-cost information, producing a theory in which partisanship and ideology served simply as rules of thumb carrying no inherent significance as phenomena of identification” (2002, 569). Given the social nature of many forms of political participation, the tendency to ignore the potential influence of groups is unfortunate. To the extent that...

    • CHAPTER 13 Measuring Everyday Perceptions of the Distribution of the American Electorate
      (pp. 220-237)
      Charles M. Judd, Leaf Van Boven, Michaela Huber and Ana P. Nunes

      Students of political behavior, be they political scientists or psychologists, have long been interested in how one’s own political attitudes and commitments color the attitudes and commitments that are attributed to others. Indicative of this interest is the fact that respondents in nearly all past American National Election Studies have been asked not only about their own positions on important national policy issues, but also about their judgments of the positions espoused on those issues by the presidential nominees and by typical members of the two political parties (for example, “most Democrats”).

      Data from responses to these questions have been...

    • CHAPTER 14 Measuring Ambivalence about Government
      (pp. 238-259)
      Michael D. Martinez, Jason Gainous and Stephen C. Craig

      Psychologists and political scientists have increasingly come to embrace the idea that people do not always have a single “true” attitude about a particular topic, but rather a store of multiple and sometimes contradictory attitudes that they might draw upon when answering questions in an opinion survey, deciding which candidate to vote for in an election, or otherwise choosing from among alternative scenarios or courses of action (Zaller and Feldman 1992; also see Zaller 1992). When someone’s evaluations, beliefs, or emotions concerning an attitude object are in conflict with one another, we might describe that person as being ambivalent (Alvarez...

    • CHAPTER 15 Gender Stereotypes and Gender Preferences in American Politics
      (pp. 260-277)
      Kira Sanbonmatsu and Kathleen Dolan

      The role of women in U.S. electoral politics has expanded dramatically in the last few decades. Women have constituted a majority of voters since 1964 (CAWP 2005). The numbers of women in Congress and state legislatures in 2010 represented record highs. The nation recently experienced its first female Speaker of the House and the most competitive bid in U.S. history by a woman candidate for the presidency. These developments indicate that it is an important time to expand our understanding of the role of gender in American politics.

      Much is known about the relationship between candidate gender and American elections.¹...

    • CHAPTER 16 In Search of a Religious Left REEXAMINING RELIGIOSITY
      (pp. 278-298)
      Stephen T. Mockabee, Kenneth D. Wald and David C. Leege

      Surveys of the American public have provided considerable evidence that religiosity—as measured by items tapping individual piety and involvement—is strongly correlated with partisanship and vote choice. Among whites, the standard finding has been that religiosity has a positive relationship to Republican identification and vote choice. The “God gap” has become part of the current political lexicon among journalists and scholars (see, for example, Olson and Green 2006). However, there are important reasons to suspect that standard survey measures of religiosity are inadequate to capture fully the complexity of religion. The current measures tend to be tradition specific; that...

  7. Part 5 Political Issues

      (pp. 303-322)
      L.J Zigerell and Heather Marie Rice

      Abortion has divided Americans for decades, and 2009 was no exception. Pro-life advocates protested Notre Dame’s decision to award an honorary degree to a pro-choice president, Barack Obama; partisans debated whether abortion should be covered in health care reform bills; and gunmen shot and killed Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider, and James Pouillon, an antiabortion activist. Given its unofficial status as “the 800-pound gorilla of the culture war” (Masci 2007), abortion has been a perennial concern for students of public opinion and political behavior, but abortion attitudes have presented a particular challenge because they exhibit unique dynamics (DiMaggio,...

    • CHAPTER 18 Crime, Perceived Criminal Injustice, and Electoral Politics
      (pp. 323-341)
      Ross L. Matsueda, Kevin Drakulich, John Hagan, Lauren J. Krivo and Ruth D. Peterson

      Issues of crime, criminal justice, and incarceration play a crucial role in electoral politics. In the United States, political campaign promises to get tough on crime invariably resonate well with the public, such as when Bill Clinton pledged, during the 1996 presidential campaign, to put 100,000 new, federally funded police officers on the streets of America by the end of the twentieth century (Clinton 1995). Recent Gallup polls reveal that nearly half of Americans view crime as an extremely serious or very serious problem, and more than two-thirds view illegal drugs as an extremely serious or very serious problem. Such...

    • CHAPTER 19 Attitudes toward the Progressivity of Taxes, Corporate Tax, and Estate Tax
      (pp. 342-360)
      Ruben Durante and Louis Putterman

      In the early 2000s, the administration of George W. Bush proposed and succeeded in enacting sweeping tax reforms that reduced the rate of taxation on capital gains and dividends, lowered the tax rate facing Americans in the top income tax brackets, and lowered (in hopes of repealing) the estate tax, which primarily affects wealthier families. These reforms were a bone of contention between the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency in 2008, with the Republican, John McCain, arguing for their retention and the Democrat, Barack Obama, calling for significant rollbacks. Obama’s running mate, Senator Joseph Biden, was lambasted by...

  8. Part 6 Concluding Thoughts and Future Directions

    • CHAPTER 20 How the ANES Used Online Commons Proposals and Pilot Study Reports to Develop Its 2008 Questionnaires
      (pp. 363-379)
      Jon A. Krosnick and Arthur Lupia

      The ANES seeks to produce questionnaires that allow scholars to explain vote choice, turnout, and related topics. When we led the ANES from 2005 to 2009, we chose to construct ANES questionnaires by consulting as many scholars as possible. In chapter 2, we outlined how our goal of broad consultation led us to develop the ANES Online Commons.

      In response to our invitation to participate in the Online Commons (OC), hundreds of scholars proposed new ideas. In this chapter, we describe how these ideas informed our decisions about which questions to include in the questionnaires for the ANES 2008–2009...

    • CHAPTER 21 Concluding Thoughts
      (pp. 380-386)
      John H. Aldrich and Kathleen M. McGraw

      Our central goal has been to highlight the process of the development of new ideas, the translation of those new ideas into rigorous specifications for application in empirical research, and the use of peer review and other such mechanisms to judge the suitability of those researchable ideas for being put into practice—as it happens, to be put in practice on perhaps the primary platform for the study of public opinion and voting behavior. In this conclusion, we reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the content of the 2006 ANES Pilot Study as it played out in practice. Specifically,...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 387-395)