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"The importance of knowing 'What goes with what': Reinterpreting the evidence on policy attitude stability."

Gabriel Lenz, an associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley, revisits the debate over what share of citizens hold meaningful views about public policy.

Feb 22, 2019
from 12:00 PM to 01:30 PM

Kerr 693

Abstract: What share of citizens hold meaningful views about public policy? Despite decades of scholarship, researchers have failed to reach a consensus. Researchers agree that policy opinions in surveys are unstable but disagree about whether that instability is real or just measurement error. In this paper, we revisit this debate with a concept neglected in the literature: knowledge of which issue positions “go together” ideologically— or what Converse (1964) called knowledge of "what goes with what." Using surveys spanning decades in the US and the UK, we find that individuals hold stable views primarily when they possess this knowledge and agree with their party. These results imply that observed opinion instability arises not primarily from measurement error, but from instability in the opinions themselves. We find many US citizens lack knowledge of “what goes with what” and that only about 20-40 percent hold stable views on many policy issues.

Gabriel Lenz is an associate professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He studies democratic accountability, focusing on how to help voters hold their politicians accountable. He wrote "Follow the Leader" (University of Chicago Press, 2012), and his articles appear in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and Political Analysis, and other journals.