American Political Science Review

Mass Political Attitudes and the Survey Response  *

Christopher H. Achen

University of California, Berkeley


Students of public opinion research have argued that voters show very little consistency and structure in their political attitudes. A model of the survey response is proposed which takes account of the vagueness in opinion survey questions and in response categories. When estimates are made of this vagueness or “measurement error” and the estimates applied to the principal previous study, nearly all the inconsistency is shown to be the result of the vagueness of the questions rather than of any failure by the respondents.

Christopher H. Achen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley


*   I would like to express my thanks to John Aldrich, Lloyd Etheredge, Richard Katz, Gerald Kramer, David Mayhew, Richard Niemi, Douglas Rae, and Charles Whitmore for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Remaining errors are, of course, the responsibility of the author. The data used were collected by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan and made available through the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research. Neither body is responsible for the analysis and interpretation presented here.