Lecture Outline No. 1

Empirical Bases of Political Behavior


I.    Explanatory Frameworks


      1.    Dependent and Independent Variables


      2.    Headaches, migraines and indeterminacies: 

            a.    We define behavior quite broadly

            b.    Many different factors (independent variables) may partially explain the same behavior

            c.    No single explanation is the best for all circumstances and individuals


      3.    Pol Beh = f(Internal Predisp's, Percept's of External Situation)


      4.    A more complete mapping of factors that influence behavior:


Distant Social Forces

      (History, culture, economic forces, institutions, norms)


Immediate Social Environment for development of individual predispositions

      (Political socialization, Group membership, Mass media)


Individual predispositions                                                            

      (Personality, General Values and Beliefs, Specific Attitudes, etc.)         


Immediate Situation


Political Behavior



II. Political Attitudes: the building blocks of political behavior.


1.    Definition:  An  attitude  is  a  predisposition  to  respond  to  a particular stimulus (i.e., object) in a particular manner.  Political attitudes are those directed toward  political objects,  such as political candidates, political  issues,  political parties, and political institutions. 


2.    Consequences: mediate perceptions, guide political behavior.


3.    Characteristics:  inferred, internal; relatively consistent over time and across situations. 

4.    Components of an attitude:

      a.    Affective (feelings, evaluations giving direction, intensity)

      b.    Cognitive (beliefs, ideas)

      c.    Conative (behavioral tendencies)


3. Functional bases of attitudes (e.g., sexism, racism)

   a. Protect our self image

   b. Self identification

   c. Understanding

   d. Utilitarian


III.  PUBLIC OPINION: Aggregate of political attitudes. 

Useful  Definitions:  Pollster is someone who goes from door  to  door  asking people  what they think they think of issues they haven't thought about.  Good Citizen is someone who knows enough about his own weaknesses to understand that even honest politicians have to be watched closely.  Bigot is someone who hates different  people  than I do.  Alienation is the belief that the  paranoids  in power are out to get you.



      1.    Direction.

      2.    Intensity.

      3.    Informational content.

      4.    Stability over time.  "Non-attitudes"

      5.    Strength:  Strong (i.e., salient, important, accessible) attitudes are more likely to guide behavior, especially when the situation is "weak" (e.g., ambiguous, new, etc.)

      6.    Organization/Structure of attitude or opinion clusters. 

            Horizontal Structure:  attitudes at the same level of abstraction (e.g., attiudes toward different specific issues, such as favoring an increase in government services and increasing taxes. 

            Vertical Structure  More general beliefs and values shape more specific attitudes via psycho-logic, not syllogistic reasoning.  E.g., attitudes toward welfare and value of individualism.


      B.    Beliefs: propositions that we regard as true and real about the world.

      Empirical (the way the world is)

      Normative (the way the world ought to be)


      C.   Values: the ends (not means) people feel are most important in their life. Social values include a commitment to freedom, equality, humanitarianism, the morality of warfare, etc.



IV.  Methods for Studying Public opnion:  Survey Research


      1.    Drawing a Sample: Selecting indiv's in pop. to interview


      2.    Types of Samples:

            a.    Probability sample:  variation on random sample, which yields a representative microcosm of the population and allows the analyst to generalize results from sample to population, with a ceratin degree of sampling error, which is affected more by the size of the sample than the size of the population. 

            b.    Non-probability or haphazard samples.

            c.    Systematically biased, unrepresentative samples:  (e.g., Literary Digest  poll of 1936 and various "straw" polls)

      3.    Question wording: examples of "loaded" questions and other types of bias in question wording.

      4.    Analyzing survey data: covariation between two variables: Do variables X (e.g., watching violence on TV) and variable Y (e.g., aggressive behavior) go together or vary together? 

      5.    Surveys have various advantages (naturalness of the design, generalizability of results to population) and disadvantages (inability to disentangle cause-and-effect relationships, expense).  The weaknesses of surveys may be offset by also relying on different methods, such as experiments, which have their own strengths (ability to identify cause-and-effect relationships) and weaknesses (e.g., problems with generalizing results beyond the artificial laboratory and to the wider population). 

      6.    See survey checklist