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Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.
Zaller and Feldman. 1992. A simple theory of the survey response. American Journal of Political Science 36: 579-616.
We have multiple considerations (for and against) concerning policy issues. At any given time, different considerations are on our minds, and these salient considerations determine what we tell surveyors about our policy preferences. (An argument very similar to Zaller 1992.)
A deductive model based on three axioms:
From these three axioms, the authors deduce 17 hypotheses, of which they confirm 16 (see list on pg 608). Grouping these axioms into three headings (as in pg 607), the model generally explains all these phenomena:
The authors administered two types of survey, asking similar questions as in earlier studies. Instead of simply asking the closed-ended response items, though, respondents were asked either to "stop-and-think" (before answering) or reflect (after answering), telling the surveyor what thoughts crossed their mind when thinking about the question. Each thought ("consideration") was coded (number of considerations, number of considerations in each direction, number of explicit expressions of ambivalence, etc.).
Although scholars worry about individual-level response instability, aggregate level data should nevertheless be okay. Since individuals are randomly sampling their considerations, you would expect bias to average out in the aggregate (unless, of course, something is biasing the way that respondents sample their considerations, like a poorly written survey or recent news coverage; see e.g. Iyengar and Kinder 1987).
Research by the same authors
Research on similar subjects
Zaller, John (author) • Feldman, Stanley (author) • American Politics • Public Opinion • Media Effects
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