University of Twente Student Theses


“Wavering respondent loyalties:” Comparing three models of stability in political attitudes ”

Grootel, Leonie E. van (2010) “Wavering respondent loyalties:” Comparing three models of stability in political attitudes ”.

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Abstract:This thesis focuses on the methodological problem of instability in political attitudes. Measured attitude change can be caused by the actual attitude change of the respondent or by measurement error. This research aims to provide insight in this last part of measured attitude change. On the one hand, this measurement error has a nonsystematic or random part that can reduce the reliability and the stability of the measurement over time. On the other hand, the part of instability that is measurement error might be systematically influenced by background variables. In other words, particular groups of respondents might be more stable in their attitudes than others. We look into the systematic and non-systematic part of the measurement error in the measurement of political attitudes over time using data collected in the LISS panel in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Three theories of attitude change were evaluated. The first one is the traditional model of Achen, who defines attitudes as fixed entities and considers measurement error non-systematic. Secondly, we evaluated the model of Converse, who considers attitudes “top-of-the-head-responses” and argues that stability of these attitudes is systematically influenced in favor of the “elite”. Finally, we evaluated the model of Zaller, who agrees with Converse that the measurement error is systematic but draws a more complex model around stability in which political awareness is the key variable. The results showed that stability differs between three political attitudes. Confidence in institutions is relatively stable, whereas the variables internal and external efficacy are considerably less stable. Furthermore, we learned that there was no empirical evidence for the theory of Converse that more educated respondents were more stable. The evidence for a systematic relation between political awareness and stability, in line with the model of Zaller, was somewhat stronger. However, we found no evidence that measurement error is systematically influenced, which means that the traditional model of Achen has the best explanation for instability in political attitudes from these three models. This indicates that the measurement error in measuring stability of political attitudes has an important random part. These results indicate that although we cannot rule out the relation between education and instability, and more important; between awareness and instability, there is empirical evidence that random error, possibly caused by the survey, is a larger part of the instability than Converse and Zaller might expect. In this context, scholars could also focus on the exact source of random error that causes stability in political attitudes instead of seeking for a systematic influence on stability. Moreover, considering the fact that random error might be an important factor in instability, further research could focus on the relation between level of education and sources that cause random error, for instance the formulation of survey 5 questions. The same suggestion can be made for respondents who are less aware. The difference in stability between respondents who are not aware and those who are fairly or very aware was considerably larger than the differences for education. Respondents who are less aware, might be more sensitive to vague survey questions because they have less information and consequently, less formed opinions. The last limitation that is discussed concerns the specification of the models by means of structural equation modeling. First of all, the models that are specified in LISREL are a simplified version of the theoretical models of Achen, Converse and Zaller, made in order to draw conclusions about the comparison of these models. A detailed analysis of all the exact workings of these separate models would involve specific evaluation of each model based on data collected for this purpose, which was not possible in this research. However, this possibility of omitted variables bias does not give rise to any conjectures about the direction of the results. New variables can strengthen or weaken the relation between awareness and stability, but are not likely to change the direction of the relation. In this research, measurement error is probably random and there is no reason to suspect that one of the other models will turn out much better in a more detailed analysis. However, further research that is able to simulate all the exact underpinnings of these models is called for in order to confirm this suspicion.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:77 psychology
Programme:Psychology MSc (66604)
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