Ambivalence and Response Instability
Public opinion research has yet to unravel all of the mysteries relating to the stability of attitudes. Instability was once regarded as a reflection either of non-attitudes that were more or less randomly expressed by survey respondents in polite deference to interviewers (Converse 1964, 1970), or of measurement error stemming from vague question wording and other factors having little to do with citizens’ cognitive or motivational limitations (Achen 1975). More recently, psychologists and political scientists have embraced the idea that people do not necessarily have a single “true” attitude on issues, but rather a store of multiple and sometimes conflicting attitudes that they might draw upon at any given time (Zaller and Feldman 1992; also see Tesser 1978; Hochschild 1981; Tourangeau and Rasinski 1988; Zaller 1992; Schwartz and Bless 1992; Wilson and Hodges 1992; Hill and Kriesi 2001). While this perspective suggests that the presence of such conflict, or ambivalence, has significant effects on attitude stability, the empirical evidence to date is rather mixed. In the following report, we provide a direct examination of the effects of ambivalence on the stability of individuals’ attitudes regarding the controversial issue of abortion.
KeywordsGeneral Social Survey Political Knowledge Legal Abortion Response Instability Elective Abortion
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