The Importance of Knowing What Goes with What: Reinterpreting the Evidence on Policy Attitude Stability in the Mass Public

Thursday, Nov 17, 2016 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm

The Jacob Marschak Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Mathematics in the Behavioral Sciences at UCLA

Do citizens have meaningful views about public policy? Despite considerable attention to this question for five decades, researchers have not reached consensus. While scholars such as Converse (1964) conclude that few citizens hold meaningful policy opinions, other scholars find that, after correcting for measurement error, most do, even those with low education and low political knowledge.

Gabriel Lenz will revisit this debate with a concept at the center of Converse’s theorizing but neglected by subsequent scholarship: knowledge of which issue positions “go together” ideologically—or what Converse called knowledge of "what goes with what." We find that this knowledge strongly predicts attitude stability, implying that opinion instability arises not primarily from measurement error, but from lack of stable views. Much of the public lacks this knowledge and, consequently, much of the public holds unstable policy views. We conclude that less than half of US citizens hold meaningful views on any given public policy issue.

Light refreshments will be served. Advance RSVP is requested as seating is limited.

Gabriel Lenz is an associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley.