Attitudinal Stability on Short- and Long-term Issues: A Data-Driven Learning Guide
Goal & Concept
The goal of this exercise is to explore the differences in the stability of attitudes about long term and short term issues. Correlation coefficients, comparisons of correlations, and T-statistics will be used.
Attitudinal stability refers to consistency in a single attitude over time. For example, if a survey respondent said that he preferred lower taxes and fewer government sponsored social programs during the first interview and then said that he preferred higher taxes and more government sponsored social programs during the second interview, one could say that the respondent's attitudes on this topic are unstable. If, on the other hand, the respondent gave the same answer to the question both times, one could say that his attitudes on this topic are stable.
Political science literature suggests that attitudinal stability in an individual indicates that he or she has a deep and meaningful opinion regarding the given issue. That is, the person's opinion is important and makes sense to them. Stability suggests that the person in question has mulled over the topic, thought thoroughly about it, and has reached a somewhat definitive conclusion on the issue.
Attitudinal instability, on the other hand, can be interpreted in one of two ways. First, it may be that the respondent in question has gained an important piece of information between the first and second interviews that has caused an attitude to change. In this case, instability would indicate an important and meaningful change in an attitude. Second, it may be that the respondent has a "non-attitude" on the issue. A non-attitude suggests that a respondent does not hold the issue as personally important and that he or she has not put it a great deal of thought into generating an opinion.
Long term issues are those that have been central to politics and campaigns for years or even decades. One might consider federal tax policies a long term issue, for example, because they have been central to every election and every campaign platform in recent memory. Political science research suggests that, due to their extended and continuing importance, people are able to form "gut" reactions to these long term issues. Political parties and candidates base a significant portion of their platforms around these types of issues, and political elites are constantly reminding voters of how their party or candidate stands. This constant reinforcement results in attitudinal stability.
Short term issues, as you may have guessed, are issues that have been important to politics for a relatively short period of time. These issues are not engrained into political debate, so they are not engrained into individuals' belief systems. Consistency on these issues requires one to think deeply and form meaningful conclusions without much help from political parties and elites. In short, these issues are cognitively complex, and the meaningful attitudes about them require more work by the respondent. Attitudes on short term issues are often less stable than attitudes on long term issues.
Examples of possible research questions about attitudinal stability include:
- How does attitudinal stability on short term issues compare to attitudinal stability on long term issues?
- What other factors contribute to attitudinal stability?
- What types of issues are particularly stable? Which issues are less stable?
CITATION: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. Attitudinal Stability on Short- and Long-term Issues: A Data-Driven Learning Guide. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2009-04-16. Doi:10.3886/attitudinalstability
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