Chris Hanretty, Benjamin E Lauderdale, Nick Vivyan, “The Emergence of Coherent Political Choices from Incomplete Issue Preferences”

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We provide the clearest evidence to date for an ‘issue publics’ account that reconciles conceptions of democracy premised on policy voting with longstanding evidence that citizens typically lack ‘real’, stable opinions on many policy issues. In this account, voters make coherent political choices based on the varying subsets of issues about which they as individuals care and form stable attitudes. Leveraging a novel three-wave panel survey experiment that repeatedly measures British respondents’ issue positions and their political choices between hypothetical candidates taking randomised issue positions, we provide the first direct evidence that higher opinion-stability issues have greater causal effect on citizens’ political choices. We then evidence hitherto untested issue publics implications: even restricted to issue-based considerations and given average issue opinion instability, individuals’ candidate choices are predictable and, when candidates contrast clearly on issues respondents’ care about, highly temporally stable. Aggregate issue opinion instability does not prohibit coherent issue voting.

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