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Hard Choices, Easy Answers: Values, Information, and American Public Opinion

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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Those who seek to accurately gauge public opinion must first ask themselves: Why are certain opinions highly volatile while others are relatively fixed? Why are some surveys affected by question wording or communicative medium (e.g., telephone) while others seem immune? In Hard Choices, Easy Answers, R. Michael Alvarez and John Brehm develop a new theory of response variability that, by reconciling the strengths and weaknesses of the standard approaches, will help pollsters and scholars alike better resolve such perennial problems. Working within the context of U.S. public opinion, they contend that the answers Americans give rest on a variegated structure of political predispositions--diverse but widely shared values, beliefs, expectations, and evaluations.

Alvarez and Brehm argue that respondents deploy what they know about politics (often little) to think in terms of what they value and believe. Working with sophisticated statistical models, they offer a unique analysis of not just what a respondent is likely to choose, but also how variable those choices would be under differing circumstances. American public opinion can be characterized in one of three forms of variability, conclude the authors: ambivalence, equivocation, and uncertainty. Respondents are sometimes ambivalent, as in attitudes toward abortion or euthanasia. They are often equivocal, as in views about the scope of government. But most often, they are uncertain, sure of what they value, but unsure how to use those values in political choices.

Synopsis:

"Hard Choices, Easy Answers offers a strikingly original and rigorous theory of public opinion built upon the interaction between psychological predispositions and political information. In addition to providing a refined portrait of the electorate's policy preferences, Alvarez and Brehm compare elites and masses, distinguish between individual and collective opinion, develop methods to interpret the variability of opinions, and draw lessons for theories of political representation--a total package that significantly advances our understanding of attitude formation, belief systems, and survey responses."--Dennis Chong, Northwestern University

"Hard Choices, Easy Answers is a very attractive book that has taught me a good deal. It treats numerous topics in public opinion research, but the underlying theme is the wavering in people's minds when they are asked their political views. Anyone concerned with these topics will have to consult the studies included here. This book--whose authors are smart, prominent, productive scholars--will draw considerable attention."--Christopher Achen, University of Michigan

Synopsis:

Those who seek to accurately gauge public opinion must first ask themselves: Why are certain opinions highly volatile while others are relatively fixed? Why are some surveys affected by question wording or communicative medium (e.g., telephone) while others seem immune? In Hard Choices, Easy Answers, R. Michael Alvarez and John Brehm develop a new theory of response variability that, by reconciling the strengths and weaknesses of the standard approaches, will help pollsters and scholars alike better resolve such perennial problems. Working within the context of U.S. public opinion, they contend that the answers Americans give rest on a variegated structure of political predispositions--diverse but widely shared values, beliefs, expectations, and evaluations.

Alvarez and Brehm argue that respondents deploy what they know about politics (often little) to think in terms of what they value and believe. Working with sophisticated statistical models, they offer a unique analysis of not just what a respondent is likely to choose, but also how variable those choices would be under differing circumstances. American public opinion can be characterized in one of three forms of variability, conclude the authors: ambivalence, equivocation, and uncertainty. Respondents are sometimes ambivalent, as in attitudes toward abortion or euthanasia. They are often equivocal, as in views about the scope of government. But most often, they are uncertain, sure of what they value, but unsure how to use those values in political choices.

About the Author

R. Michael Alvarez is Professor of Political Science at the California Institute of Technology and the author of Information and Elections. John Brehm is Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Phantom Respondents and the coauthor of Working, Shirking, and Sabotage.

Table of Contents

List of Figures vii

List of Tables xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Chapter 1: A Fickle Public? 1

PART 1 :THEORY AND METHODS 13

Chapter 2: Predispositions 15

Chapter 3: Why Does Political Information Matter? 27

Chapter 4: Ambivalence, Uncertainty, and Equivocation 52

PART 2: MASS PUBLIC OPINION 65

Chapter 5: Ambivalent Attitudes: Abortion and Euthanasia 67

Chapter 6: Uncertainty and Racial Attitudes 100

Chapter 7: Equivocation 125

PART 3 : MASSES AND ELITES 149

Chapter 8: Mass Opinion and Representation 151

Chapter 9: Do Elites Experience Ambivalence Where Masses Do Not? 194

Chapter 10: Politics, Psychology, and the Survey Response 216

Notes 225

References 233

Index 243

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691096353
Author:
Alvarez, R. Michael
Author:
Brehm, John
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Location:
Princeton
Subject:
Public Affairs & Administration
Subject:
Public opinion
Subject:
U.S. Government
Subject:
Political culture
Subject:
Government - U.S. Government
Subject:
Elections
Subject:
Political Science and International Relations
Subject:
Political culture -- United States.
Subject:
Public opinion -- United States.
Subject:
Politics-United States Politics
Subject:
Politics - General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
July 2002
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
College/higher education:
Language:
English
Illustrations:
55 line illus. 46 tables.
Pages:
264
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 13 oz

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Related Subjects

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History and Social Science » Sociology » Reference and Methodology

Hard Choices, Easy Answers: Values, Information, and American Public Opinion New Trade Paper
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Product details 264 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691096353 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , "Hard Choices, Easy Answers offers a strikingly original and rigorous theory of public opinion built upon the interaction between psychological predispositions and political information. In addition to providing a refined portrait of the electorate's policy preferences, Alvarez and Brehm compare elites and masses, distinguish between individual and collective opinion, develop methods to interpret the variability of opinions, and draw lessons for theories of political representation--a total package that significantly advances our understanding of attitude formation, belief systems, and survey responses."--Dennis Chong, Northwestern University

"Hard Choices, Easy Answers is a very attractive book that has taught me a good deal. It treats numerous topics in public opinion research, but the underlying theme is the wavering in people's minds when they are asked their political views. Anyone concerned with these topics will have to consult the studies included here. This book--whose authors are smart, prominent, productive scholars--will draw considerable attention."--Christopher Achen, University of Michigan

"Synopsis" by , Those who seek to accurately gauge public opinion must first ask themselves: Why are certain opinions highly volatile while others are relatively fixed? Why are some surveys affected by question wording or communicative medium (e.g., telephone) while others seem immune? In Hard Choices, Easy Answers, R. Michael Alvarez and John Brehm develop a new theory of response variability that, by reconciling the strengths and weaknesses of the standard approaches, will help pollsters and scholars alike better resolve such perennial problems. Working within the context of U.S. public opinion, they contend that the answers Americans give rest on a variegated structure of political predispositions--diverse but widely shared values, beliefs, expectations, and evaluations.

Alvarez and Brehm argue that respondents deploy what they know about politics (often little) to think in terms of what they value and believe. Working with sophisticated statistical models, they offer a unique analysis of not just what a respondent is likely to choose, but also how variable those choices would be under differing circumstances. American public opinion can be characterized in one of three forms of variability, conclude the authors: ambivalence, equivocation, and uncertainty. Respondents are sometimes ambivalent, as in attitudes toward abortion or euthanasia. They are often equivocal, as in views about the scope of government. But most often, they are uncertain, sure of what they value, but unsure how to use those values in political choices.

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