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Issue Publics in American Politics


Glasgow, Garrett Edwin (1999) Issue Publics in American Politics. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/wse3-fr29.


This work examines the existence of heterogeneity in the impact of issues on vote choice in the American electorate. I begin by explaining the reasons for studying heterogeneity in issue weights from both a methodological and substantive perspective. In Chapter 2 I examine the aggregate effect of heterogeneity in costs of information on the measures of issue salience derived from spatial models of voting. I find some evidence that individuals who are uncertain about candidate issue positions do bias these estimates, but the resulting bias is slight in the aggregate. However, the results of this chapter are suggestive, indicating that different voters may use issues differently or not at all, depending on their costs of information. In order to examine this possibility further, individual measures of issue salience must be developed. Chapter 3 explores the utility of using survey questions about issue salience as the solution to this problem. Unfortunately, most of the survey questions currently employed do not prove to be useful in determining issue salience in spatial models of voting. Thus, Chapter 4 attempts to determine individual level issue salience indirectly, using a method that employs rank-ordered data to estimate separate issue weights for each individual on each issue. I find a clear relationship between issue salience and costs of information, with those individuals who face higher costs of information being less likely to place weight on any given issue or consider multiple issues when deciding who to vote for. Although I am able to employ this technique to learn a great deal about the relationship between issue salience and the costs of information, this technique is not suited for most datasets. Therefore, in Chapter 5 I develop a model that allows for heterogeneity in issue weights, but is more widely applicable to the kind of data generally available for studying American elections. I again find evidence of heterogeneity in the impact of issues on vote choice in the American electorate and the role that costs of information play in determining issue salience. Finally, I conclude, discussing my findings and the implications they have for the political process in the United States.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Social Science
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Alvarez, R. Michael
Thesis Committee:
  • Alvarez, R. Michael (chair)
  • Katz, Jonathan N.
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick
  • Sherman, Robert P.
Defense Date:28 May 1999
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Anna and James McDonnell Memorial ScholarshipUNSPECIFIED
NSF Graduate Research AssistantshipSBR-97-09327
Caltech Special Institute FellowshipUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06292020-130045269
Persistent URL:
Glasgow, Garrett Edwin0000-0001-6418-5188
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13827
Deposited By: Kathy Johnson
Deposited On:29 Jun 2020 20:09
Last Modified:02 Dec 2020 02:41

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