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Fictitious issues revisited: Political interest, knowledge and the generation of nonattitudes

Sturgis, Patrick ORCID: 0000-0003-1180-3493 and Smith, Patten (2010) Fictitious issues revisited: Political interest, knowledge and the generation of nonattitudes. Political Studies, 58 (1). pp. 66-84. ISSN 0032-3217

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Identification Number: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2008.00773.x


It has long been suspected that, when asked to provide opinions on matters of public policy, significant numbers of those surveyed do so with only the vaguest understanding of the issues in question. In this article, we present the results of a study which demonstrates that a significant minority of the British public are, in fact, willing to provide evaluations of non-existent policy issues. In contrast to previous American research, which has found such responses to be most prevalent among the less educated, we find that the tendency to provide 'pseudo-opinions' is positively correlated with self-reported interest in politics. This effect is itself moderated by the context in which the political interest item is administered; when this question precedes the fictitious issue item, its effect is greater than when this order is reversed. Political knowledge, on the other hand, is associated with a lower probability of providing pseudo-opinions, though this effect is weaker than that observed for political interest. Our results support the view that responses to fictitious issue items are not generated at random, via some 'mental coin flip'. Instead, respondents actively seek out what they consider to be the likely meaning of the question and then respond in their own terms, through the filter of partisan loyalties and current political discourses.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2009 The Authors
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: J Political Science
H Social Sciences
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2019 10:57
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 02:52

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