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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Don’t Know or Don’t Care? A Survey Experiment into the Presence and Strength of Opinions about Political Issues

Political Psychology
Jannine Van De Maat
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Jannine Van De Maat
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden

‘Polls have the potential to ensure that all citizens are heard by politicians and policymakers’ (Berinsky 2004: 2) and these ‘numbered voices’ have an impact on public debate and democratic politics (cf. Herbst, 1993). One of the main issues is, however, whether public opinion is truly based on the collection and aggregation of individual opinions. The first focal point is therefore whether respondents have an opinion at all or that there is a high level of public ignorance for a certain issue. The second focal point concerns the intensity of a given opinion and examines whether respondents want their political leaders to be responsive to their opinion or whether they are indifferent about it. The two focal points are addressed in this paper with the following research question: To what extent do the respondents in a survey want to see their opinions translated in policies? In other words, to what extent do the respondents care about their opinions and consider them as ‘directive’ for politicians?

The research question will be answered by using original data from an internet survey experiment with six variants of a questionnaire where a “Don’t Know” (DK) option and/or filter question was used, to measure public ignorance, and a follow-up question was applied to measure the intensity of the opinion. The follow-up question is a replication of the Gallup examples reported by Moore (2008), but it is more systematically applied to make comparison between issues possible. It is applied in a semi-experimental between-subjects design in which the variants of the questionnaire were randomly distributed among groups of respondents, asking their opinion about substantive topics. The 1503 respondents were drawn from an internet panel.
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