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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  measures of policy-specific knowledge, 29% of respondents knew the federal budget deficit had declined over the previous four years, 58% could correctly place President Bill Clinton as relatively more pro-choice on abortion rights than candidate Bob Dole, 49% could correctly place the Republican party as favoring larger increases in defense spending than the Democratic party, 52% correctly placed Clinton as favoring stronger environmental protections than Dole, and 49% correctly did the same for the Democratic party relative to the Republican party (43% got both of these environmental stance questions correct). 15 None of these questions provides an especially good test of policy-specific knowledge for, as Gilens (2001: 388-89) points out, all single-item measures are susceptible to guessing. Indeed, the percentages correct in each case are very close to what we would expect by chance: the deficit question has three possible answers, so a third of guessers should get it right, while the other knowledge items are scored as correct when candidates or parties are placed in correct relative position to one another, which means that about half should get these right by guessing. Nonetheless, these questions are the best available in ANES data, so they will have to do. The 1996 ANES fares much better when it comes to providing opinion questions related to the policy-specific knowledge items. Although only one abortion rights question and one defense spending question are included, a set of six questions presented tradeoffs between pairs of alternatives to clarify respondent preferences about priorities in governmental budgeting. 16 15 The correlations between each of these items and all the other items making up the scale of general political knowledge were as follows: .22 for knowledge of the deficit, .50 for knowledge of the candidates’ abortion stances, .50 for knowledge of the parties’ relative stances on increasing defense spending, and .55 for answering both environmental knowledge questions correctly. 16 Respondents were asked whether they would change levels of domestic spending, taxes paid by ordinary people, or the size of the federal budget deficit in order to support their preferred policy outcomes (more spending, lower taxes, or lower deficits) The series of questions was presented as follows: “Each year the government in Washington has to make decisions about taxes, spending, and the deficit. We’d like to know your opinions about what the government should do about the budget. Do you favor an increase in the federal budget deficit in order to increase spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education, and highways? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor) Do you favor cuts in spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education and highways in order to cut the taxes paid by ordinary Americans? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor) Do you favor an increase in the federal budget deficit in order to cut the taxes paid by ordinary Americans? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor.)” After five intervening questions, respondents were again asked: “Here are a few more questions about what the government should do about the budget. Do you favor increases in the taxes paid by ordinary Americans in order to increase spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education and highways? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor) Do you favor cuts in spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education, and highways in order to cut the federal budget deficit? (Yes, favor;

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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measures of policy-specific knowledge, 29% of respondents knew the federal budget deficit had
declined over the previous four years, 58% could correctly place President Bill Clinton as relatively
more pro-choice on abortion rights than candidate Bob Dole, 49% could correctly place the
Republican party as favoring larger increases in defense spending than the Democratic party, 52%
correctly placed Clinton as favoring stronger environmental protections than Dole, and 49%
correctly did the same for the Democratic party relative to the Republican party (43% got both of
these environmental stance questions correct).
15
None of these questions provides an especially good
test of policy-specific knowledge for, as Gilens (2001: 388-89) points out, all single-item measures
are susceptible to guessing. Indeed, the percentages correct in each case are very close to what we
would expect by chance: the deficit question has three possible answers, so a third of guessers should
get it right, while the other knowledge items are scored as correct when candidates or parties are
placed in correct relative position to one another, which means that about half should get these right
by guessing. Nonetheless, these questions are the best available in ANES data, so they will have to
do.
The 1996 ANES fares much better when it comes to providing opinion questions related to the
policy-specific knowledge items. Although only one abortion rights question and one defense
spending question are included, a set of six questions presented tradeoffs between pairs of
alternatives to clarify respondent preferences about priorities in governmental budgeting.
16
15 The correlations between each of these items and all the other items making up the scale of general political
knowledge were as follows: .22 for knowledge of the deficit, .50 for knowledge of the candidates’ abortion stances,
.50 for knowledge of the parties’ relative stances on increasing defense spending, and .55 for answering both
environmental knowledge questions correctly.
16 Respondents were asked whether they would change levels of domestic spending, taxes paid by ordinary
people, or the size of the federal budget deficit in order to support their preferred policy outcomes (more spending,
lower taxes, or lower deficits) The series of questions was presented as follows: “Each year the government in
Washington has to make decisions about taxes, spending, and the deficit. We’d like to know your opinions about
what the government should do about the budget. Do you favor an increase in the federal budget deficit in order to
increase spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education, and highways? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor) Do
you favor cuts in spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education and highways in order to cut the taxes
paid by ordinary Americans? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor) Do you favor an increase in the federal budget deficit in
order to cut the taxes paid by ordinary Americans? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor.)” After five intervening questions,
respondents were again asked: “Here are a few more questions about what the government should do about the
budget. Do you favor increases in the taxes paid by ordinary Americans in order to increase spending on domestic
programs like Medicare, education and highways? (Yes, favor; No, don’t favor) Do you favor cuts in spending on
domestic programs like Medicare, education, and highways in order to cut the federal budget deficit? (Yes, favor;


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