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Article

In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of public opinion surveys in Africa. While experts on economic development and health had long been collecting individual-, household-, and community-level data on the continent, efforts to gather information on what Africans thought about their governments, societies, and political and economic situations, more broadly, were limited before the late 1990s. Certainly, this expansion was enabled by the wave of political liberalizations that hit most African countries at the end of the Cold War, thus creating conditions under which citizens could be more open in discussing attitudes and behaviors, particularly with regard to politics. However, it also coincided with a growth in the popularity of public opinion surveys globally. The distribution of data-collection efforts has not been uniform across countries: more surveys have been conducted in countries with higher levels of economic development, political openness, and security, such as Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, than in more challenging settings, such as Eritrea, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus, our knowledge of what Africans think about politics and economics varies significantly from country to country. Myriad organizations have been involved in these efforts. Academic organizations, both on the African continent and overseas, have been at the forefront of such work in Africa. The most prominent among these has been the Afrobarometer, which has conducted dozens of surveys, in about two thirds of the continent’s countries, since 1999. The majority of studies, however, are made up of contributions by other entities, including for-profit companies, media houses, and even political campaigns. In total, these surveys vary in their methodologies, focuses, quality, and the accessibility of their data for researchers, policymakers, and the general public. These developments have had significant impacts on academic studies, policymaking, and even countries’ domestic politics. Surveys have improved understandings of Africans’ attitudes, assessments of the status quos in their respective countries, decision-making processes, and hopes and priorities for the future. For academics, these data have provided new opportunities for testing theories—oftentimes upending or at least complicating extant conventional wisdom—and catalyzing the development of new research programs. Candidates and parties use enhanced understandings of the electorate to develop different persuasive strategies. Governments frequently attempt to control, limit, or strategically use survey enterprises. Media in some countries regularly report on popular attitudes and campaign-time “horse races.” In some instances, the release and interpretation of public opinion data have become quite politicized. And election observers frequently propose collection of public opinion data before elections as a guard against flagrant rigging. In sum, these developments have, in myriad ways, fundamentally changed how African countries are studied and governed.

Article

East Asia has been defined as a cultural sphere characterized by the lasting influence of Confucianism on its political and socioeconomic lives. Academic interest in the political culture of East Asia has been mainly shaped by the great diversity in this region’s economic and political landscapes. The systematic differences between Confucianism and its Western philosophical counterparts in prescribing how to organize societies and manage state–society relationships are central to understanding the uniqueness of this region’s political culture. The features of East Asian political culture cast some significant influence over the dynamics of political practice and development in the region, including but not limited to how East Asians assess their political regimes, conceptualize democracy, and participate in politics. Increasing access to high-quality regional barometer surveys, as well as expanding global survey projects, has empowered students of comparative politics to more effectively examine the political culture of East Asia and test the so-called “Asian values thesis” in a much broader context. Yet, among academics, there is a lack of agreement on what constitutes East Asia. This, along with discrepancies between empirical instruments and corresponding theoretical constructs and insufficient research designs tailored to various versions of the “Asian values thesis,” has prevented more fruitful dialogues among scholars. Considering such issues in future research could contribute to more effective accumulation of knowledge and yield a more nuanced and dynamic understanding of the political culture of East Asia.

Article

Scott E. Robinson and Junghwa Choi

Crisis management research has expanded to include a wide variety of research tools. Survey research has proven to be a useful tool for investigating key questions ranging from risk perception to the consequences of hazards. The context of crisis management presents particular demands on research tools including the deeply disruptive consequences of crises and the importance of place. Careful attention to question wording, sampling, the choice of survey mode, and ethical considerations should shape the design of survey research in crisis management.

Article

Philip Moniz and Christopher Wlezien

Salience refers to the extent to which people cognitively and behaviorally engage with a political issue (or other object), although it has meant different things to different scholars studying different phenomena. The word originally was used in the social sciences to refer to the importance of political issues to individuals’ vote choice. It also has been used to designate attention being paid to issues by policy makers and the news media, yet it can pertain to voters as well. Thus, salience sometimes refers to importance and other times to attention—two related but distinct concepts—and is applied to different actors. The large and growing body of research on the subject has produced real knowledge about policies and policy, but the understanding is limited in several ways. First, the conceptualization of salience is not always clear, which is of obvious relevance to theorizing and limits assessment of how (even whether) research builds on and extends existing literature. Second, the match between conceptualization and measurement is not always clear, which is of consequence for analysis and impacts the contribution research makes. Third, partly by implication, but also because the connections between research in different areas—the public, the media, and policy—are not always clear, the consequences of salience for representative democracy remain unsettled.

Article

Empirical media effects research involves associating two things: measures of media content or experience and measures of audience outcomes. Any quantitative evidence of correlation between media supply and audience response—combined with assumptions about temporal ordering and an absence of spuriousness—is taken as evidence of media effects. This seemingly straightforward exercise is burdened by three challenges: the measurement of the outcomes, the measurement of the media and individuals’ exposure to it, and the tools and techniques for associating the two. While measuring the outcomes potentially affected by media is in many ways trivial (surveys, election outcomes, and online behavior provide numerous measurement devices), the other two aspects of studying the effects of media present nearly insurmountable difficulties short of ambitious experimentation. Rather than find solutions to these challenges, much of collective body of media effects research has focused on the effort to develop and apply survey-based measures of individual media exposure to use as the empirical basis for studying media effects. This effort to use survey-based media exposure measures to generate causal insight has ultimately distracted from the design of both causally credible methods and thicker descriptive research on the content and experience of media. Outside the laboratory, we understand media effects too little despite this considerable effort to measure exposure through survey questionnaires. The canonical approach for assessing such effects: namely, using survey questions about individual media experiences to measure the putatively causal variable and correlating those measures with other measured outcomes suffers from substantial limitations. Experimental—and sometimes quasi-experimental—methods provide definitely superior causal inference about media effects and a uniquely fruitful path forward for insight into media and their effects. Simultaneous to this, however, thicker forms of description than what is available from close-ended survey questions holds promise to give richer understanding of changing media landscape and changing audience experiences. Better causal inference and better description are co-equal paths forward in the search for real-world media effects.

Article

Brian J. Gaines and Benjamin R. Kantack

Although motivation undergirds virtually all aspects of political decision making, its influence is often unacknowledged, or taken for granted, in behavioral political science. Motivations are inevitably important in generic models of decision theory. In real-world politics, two crucially important venues for motivational effects are the decision of whether or not to vote, and how (or, whether) partisanship and other policy views color information-collection, so that people choose and then justify, rather than studying options before choosing. For researchers, motivations of survey respondents and experimental subjects are deeply important, but only just beginning to garner the attention they deserve.

Article

The idea of satisficing as a decision rule began with Herbert Simon. Simon was dissatisfied with the increasingly dominant notion of individuals as rational decision makers who choose alternatives that maximize expected utility on two grounds. First, he viewed the maximizing account of decision making as unrealistic given that individuals have cognitive limitations and varying motivations that limit cognitive ability and effort. Second, he argued that individuals do not even choose alternatives as if they are maximizing (i.e., that the maximizing account has predictive validity). Instead, he offered a theory of individuals as satisficers: decision makers who consider a limited number of alternatives, expending limited cognitive effort, until they find one that is “good enough.” At this point, he argued, the consideration of alternatives stops. The satisficing decision rule has influenced several subfields of political science. They include elite decision making on military conflicts, the economy, and public policy; ideas of what the mass public needs to know about politics and the extent to which deficits in political knowledge are consequential; and understanding of survey responses and survey design. Political and social psychologists have also taken Simon’s idea and argued that satisficing rather than maximizing is a personality trait—stable characteristics of individuals that make them predisposed toward one or other type of alternative search when making decisions. Research in these subfields additionally raises normative questions about the extent to which satisficing is not only a common way of making decisions but a desirable one. Satisficing seems superior to maximizing in several respects. For example, it has positive effects on aspects of decision makers’ well-being and is more likely to result in individuals voting their interests in elections. There are, however, a number of directions in which future research on satisficing could be taken forward. These include a fuller incorporation of the interaction of affect and cognition, clearer tests of alternative explanations to satisficing, and more focus and understanding on the effects of the Internet and the “information age.”

Article

To understand Latin American politics, one must view it through the eyes and minds of Latin Americans. Since the middle of the 20th century, pollsters in academia, government, and industry have fielded public opinion surveys in an attempt to do just that. Although they are not typically considered political institutions, polls and surveys influence a variety of political processes directly and indirectly thanks to the legitimacy they enjoy among academics, policymakers, and publics. Large strides have been made toward making surveys more methodologically rigorous and toward improving the quality of survey data in the region. Scholars have leveraged the data to advance the theoretical understanding of a range of topics, especially political support, partisanship, and voting behavior. Despite these gains, public opinion surveys face clear challenges that threaten their hard-won legitimacy. To the extent that these challenges are met in the coming decades, public opinion polling’s role in shaping Latin American politics will remain, if not strengthen.

Article

Political scientists are increasingly using experiments to study African politics. Experimental methods help scholars to overcome two central research challenges: potential bias in responses to survey questions (social desirability bias), and establishing the effect of X on Y (causality). Regarding survey response bias, experimental methods have been used to study sensitive topics such as ethnic favoritism, clientelism, corruption, and vote buying. In terms of causality, experiments have helped to estimate the effects of programs aimed at enhancing the quality of democracy or public service delivery. Identifying the causes of the political behavior is critical to understanding the “nuts and bolts” of African politics. For policymakers, knowledge of what works to promote democratic accountability ensures the efficient allocation of scarce resources.

Article

Mary Stegmaier, Michael S. Lewis-Beck, and Lincoln Brown

In democracies, we elect our political leaders by choosing among a rival set of candidates or parties. What makes us pick one over all the others? Do we carefully weigh the platforms of all the candidates and then select the one closest to our personal desires? Or, do we select the candidate our friends and neighbors recommend? Perhaps, even, to save time, do we just vote for the same party we did last time? All of these are choice strategies, and there are many more. Here we focus on a well-known explanation of how voters decide, commonly called the Michigan Model, so named for the university where it was developed, in a path-breaking scholarly volume—The American Voter. The authors systematically gathered data, via scientific survey research, on individual voters in American presidential elections, measuring different traits, perceptions, and attitudes that they hypothesized might influence vote choice. They arranged these different factors, or variables, into long-term forces and short-term forces that acted on the voter, and could be arrayed as if they were spread along a funnel of causality: from more remote, fixed variables, such as social class or party identification, to more proximate, fluid variables, such as issue preferences and candidate attributes. All these variables generally mattered, but those that concern us here deal with issues, in particular economic issues. How do voter evaluations of the economy help the voter decide what party to favor? Is it the national economy or the pocketbook that counts? How important are economic issues compared to other issues? What conditions make economic considerations more (or less) impactful? Does economic voting operate differently in different countries? These and other questions are addressed herein, with special attention to three leading democracies where economic voting has been heavily studied—the United States, Britain, and Germany. As demonstrated, economic considerations are pervasive and powerful elements in the democratic voter’s calculus.

Article

Survey experiments are now quite common in political science. A recent analysis of the number of mentions of this term in political science journal articles demonstrates a dramatic increase from 2000 to 2013. In addition, the term survey experiment has been picked up by many other disciplines, by researchers in a variety of different countries. Given the large number of survey experiments already published, the goal here is not to review the numerous excellent studies using this methodology, because there are far too many, spanning too many different topics. Instead, this juncture—marked by both progress and the proliferation of this method—is used to highlight some of the issues that have arisen as this methodological approach has come of age. How might research using this methodology improve in political science? What are the greatest weaknesses of survey experimental studies in this discipline to date? The explosive growth of survey experiments in political science speaks to their popularity as a means of establishing causal inference. In his reflection on the origins of survey experiments, Paul Sniderman has suggested that their quick rise in popularity was due to two factors: a) their ability to meet expected standards of external validity within the discipline without sacrificing internal validity, and b) the lower marginal cost per study relative to studies that were representative national surveys. Collaborative data collection efforts such as the Multi-Investigator Project and Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS) made it possible for more scholars to execute population-based survey experiments at a lower cost per study than traditional surveys. Using shared platforms, researchers can execute many experiments for the price of one representative survey. These explanations make perfect sense in the context of a field such as political science, where external validity traditionally has been valued more highly than internal validity. It may be surprising to younger colleagues to learn that, not all that long ago, experiments were deemed completely inappropriate within the discipline of political science, unless they were field experiments executed in the real world. Experiments involving interventions in naturally occurring political environments were deemed tolerable, but only political psychologists were likely to find experimentation more broadly acceptable due to their strong ties to psychology. In political science, survey experiments were a means of promoting experimental methods in an external-validity-oriented discipline. Survey experiments freed political scientists from college sophomores as subjects and promised that external validity need not be sacrificed for strong causal inference. Times have obviously changed, and political scientists now embrace a much broader array of methodologies including both observational and experimental methods. This occasion provides an opportunity to re-evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this innovative method, in theory and in practice.

Article

Paul A. Djupe and Amy Erica Smith

Experiments in religion and politics model a communication system with three elements: who (the sample) is exposed to what (the treatment) and with what potential effect (the outcome). Most experiments in religion and politics focus on one of three types of samples: clergy, the faithful within certain religious groups, or all citizens within a polity. At the core of the experiment is the randomized treatment: an independent variable that the researcher manipulates and randomly assigns to treatment groups that are supposed to be equivalent in all other respects. Certain kinds of treatments tend to be associated with certain kinds of hypothesized outcomes. That is, most experiments in religion and politics involve investigating either (a) how a randomized treatment related to religion affects a political outcome or (b) how a randomized treatment related to politics affects a religious outcome. There are several types of religious treatments that closely mirror the actual insertion of religion into public life: manipulating candidates’ religious affiliations, behavior, and rhetoric; manipulating appeals attributed to religious elites and institutions; priming subjects’ own religious or political beliefs or manipulating other religious attributes of subjects; manipulating the characteristics of other citizens; and manipulating religious institutional cues received by clergy. Experimental methods are everywhere now in the study of religion and politics and provide clear benefits for understanding how religion and politics interact. Perhaps most importantly, the method imposes intellectual rigor, helping scholars pin down theoretically and empirically the precise mechanisms involved in the mutual impact between religion and politics. In addition, experimental control enables scholars to assert more confidently the direction of influence among variables that in the real world plausibly influence each other.

Article

Survey research is often interpreted as an exact science, but its role in assessing the social world—and its foundation in statistics—make it a methodological tool less about absolute certainty and more about estimation, choice, and trade-off. Much like any other research method, the survey process involves a number of important decisions for a researcher to make, and every decision affects not only the end result but also all of the subsequent choices along the way. Some of the most important issues that any researcher conducting a survey should consider include sampling, questionnaire design, and modality—and how these decisions, in turn, affect the thought processes and responses of survey takers. Each of these broader categories involves a multitude of choices that are dictated by research goals, as well as time and budget constraints. These aspects of the survey process have become more complex—and thus decisions have become more challenging—in the face of rapidly declining response rates and skyrocketing costs. There is no singular survey formula or path that all researchers follow; survey research is instead an accumulation of knowledge and best practices, trial and error of new techniques, and continual adaptation—all in an effort to say something with some level of statistical confidence about a particular population.

Article

Richard C. Eichenberg

Scholars and governments are interested in four sets of questions concerning public opinion on foreign policy and national security policy. First, what do public opinion polls measure? How do citizens, who are generally uninformed about foreign policy and world affairs, form opinions on these matters? Second, how rational is public opinion? Is it stable or volatile? Are opinions coherent? Do opinions plausibly reflect the flow of world events? Third, what factors influence the formation of citizen opinions? Specifically, what is the impact of fundamental attitudes toward war and military force, partisanship, ideology, and gender? Finally, how universal are the determinants of citizen opinion, especially on crucial issues of war and peace? Are the findings in global comparisons the same as those in the American or European contexts? Considerable scholarship has been devoted to these four questions. Scholars now characterize public opinion as rational, in the sense that it is fairly stable, coherent, and responsive to real world events. Attitudes toward war and military force are a major focus of the research literature because many specific policy attitudes flow from fundamental views of war. Gender has also become a major focus of research because many studies find that women are less supportive of the use of military force for most purposes. Finally, scholars are beginning to discover that some opinion patterns are universal across societies, while others are more affected by the individual characteristics of national societies. Studies of global public opinion have expanded greatly, with recent scholarship focusing on global attitudes toward gender equality, immigration, and climate change.