Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Political ground truth: How personal issue experience counters partisan biases
by Strauss, Aaron B., Ph.D., Princeton University, 2009, 234; 3377998
Abstract (Summary)

Partisan attachments create pervasive bias in the way citizens process information. Political scientists, psychologists, and recently neuroscientists find that people will believe nearly anything if a favored politician espouses the view. Yet, even though partisan affiliation is one of the most, if not the most, stable political attitudes, large segments of the public switch their vote choice from one party to the other between elections or split their tickets within a single election. This dissertation examines one explanation for shifting political views: personal experience with specific issues.

Campaigns work to attract more support, but partisan biases hinder their efforts when predispositions lead voters to doubt statements made by disfavored politicians. This dissertation explores the theory that campaigns can successfully target voters who have experience on a particular political issue. The voter will use her independent knowledge on the topic to judge, or “ground truth,” the politician’s views; if the voter and the politician agree, the voter will hold the candidate in higher esteem. With the advent of massive campaign databases of information on voters, campaigns are now able to identify these critical voter-issue linkages.

The Personal Experience Model explores why personal experience plays such a crucial role in political judgments. This formal model is an extension of Zaller’s Receive-Accept-Sample model. The theory behind the Personal Experience Model is presented, related to existing theories, and supported by empirical evidence. Observational data from the 2000 presidential campaign, two survey experiments, and two field experiments all support the model’s hypotheses. Finally, the strategic implications for campaigns, and the normative implications for democracy, are considered.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gilens, Martin
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 70/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: Campaigns, Microtargeting, Partisan bias, Personal experience, Persuasion, Randomized experiments
Publication Number: 3377998
ISBN: 978-1-109-40985-7
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