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The Importance of Properly Measuring Importance

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Abstract:

What is issue salience and how can we measure it accurately in survey research? These questions have been hotly debated by psychologists, political scientists, and experts in survey methodology, but we have yet to reach a theoretical or methodological consensus.
In this paper, I offer a new way to measure issue salience, using open-ended questions from the National Election Study, and I demonstrate why I believe this method is more accurate than previous methods. Moreover, the way we measure issue salience has implications for the conclusions we draw about the role issues play in the citizens’ voting decisions. Using previous methods of issue salience measurement, numerous scholars have concluded that issue voting, defined as issue positions having an effect on vote choice that is separable from party identification, does not occur in American elections. Using my method of measuring issue salience, however, I find that a sizeable percentage of the electorate does engage in issue voting.
In the paper, I analyze the historical role that issue voting has played in several previous presidential elections, and I find that in recent times, the propensity of voters to become “single-issue voters” has dramatically increased. For example, using my methodology to analyze the 2000 presidential election, I find that a sizeable percentage of registered Democrats voted for Bush because of his position on abortion. However, I show that using traditional methods of measuring issue salience, we would find abortion having no impact separable from party identification. I replicate this result across a tremendous number of issues and several elections.
My results herein have implications not only for scholars of voting behavior, but also for survey researchers more generally who want to have an improved tool for assessing how consumers weight various factors in decision-making.

Author's Keywords:

salience, voting, elections
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Association:
Name: American Association For Public Opinion Association
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http://www.aapor.org


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MLA Citation:

Gershkoff, Amy. "The Importance of Properly Measuring Importance" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association For Public Opinion Association, Fontainebleau Resort, Miami Beach, FL, <Not Available>. 2009-05-25 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p15662_index.html>

APA Citation:

Gershkoff, A. "The Importance of Properly Measuring Importance" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association For Public Opinion Association, Fontainebleau Resort, Miami Beach, FL <Not Available>. 2009-05-25 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p15662_index.html

Publication Type: Paper/Poster Proposal
Abstract: What is issue salience and how can we measure it accurately in survey research? These questions have been hotly debated by psychologists, political scientists, and experts in survey methodology, but we have yet to reach a theoretical or methodological consensus.
In this paper, I offer a new way to measure issue salience, using open-ended questions from the National Election Study, and I demonstrate why I believe this method is more accurate than previous methods. Moreover, the way we measure issue salience has implications for the conclusions we draw about the role issues play in the citizens’ voting decisions. Using previous methods of issue salience measurement, numerous scholars have concluded that issue voting, defined as issue positions having an effect on vote choice that is separable from party identification, does not occur in American elections. Using my method of measuring issue salience, however, I find that a sizeable percentage of the electorate does engage in issue voting.
In the paper, I analyze the historical role that issue voting has played in several previous presidential elections, and I find that in recent times, the propensity of voters to become “single-issue voters” has dramatically increased. For example, using my methodology to analyze the 2000 presidential election, I find that a sizeable percentage of registered Democrats voted for Bush because of his position on abortion. However, I show that using traditional methods of measuring issue salience, we would find abortion having no impact separable from party identification. I replicate this result across a tremendous number of issues and several elections.
My results herein have implications not only for scholars of voting behavior, but also for survey researchers more generally who want to have an improved tool for assessing how consumers weight various factors in decision-making.

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