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The Importance of Knowing ‘What Goes With What’: Reinterpreting the Evidence on Policy Attitude Stability

The Importance of Knowing ‘What Goes With What’: Reinterpreting the Evidence on Policy Attitude Stability

May 17, 2017 -
11:30am to 1:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)
Event Speaker: 
Gabriel Lenz, Associate Professor, UC Berkeley
Event Sponsor: 
The Munro Lectureship Fund and The Lane Center

What share of citizens hold meaningful views about public policy? Despite decades of scholarship, researchers have failed to reach a consensus. While scholars such as Converse (1964) conclude that few citizens hold meaningful policy opinions, other scholars find that, after correcting for measurement error, most do, even those with low education and low political knowledge. In this paper, we revisit this debate with a concept at the center of Converse’s theorizing but neglected by subsequent scholarship: knowledge of which issue positions “go together” ideologically—or what Converse called knowledge of "what goes with what." Individuals hold stable views, we find, primarily when they possess this knowledge and agree with their party. These results imply that observed opinion instability arises not primarily from measurement error, but from instability in the opinions. We find many US citizens lack this knowledge and about 20-40% hold meaningful views on economic policy issues.


Gabriel Lenz's research primarily focuses on voters’ ability to control their elected officials.  His aim is to further our understanding of when voters succeed in holding politicians accountable, when they fail, and how to help them avoid failures.  He has a recently published book with the University of Chicago Press and his articles appear or are forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Political Analysis,  Political Behavior, and Political Psychology.  His work draws on insights from social psychology and economics, and his research and teaching interests are in the areas of elections, public opinion, political psychology, and political economy. Although specializing in American democracy, he also conducts research on Canada, UK, Mexico, Netherlands, and Brazil. He has ongoing projects about improving voters' assessments of the performance of politicians, reducing the role of candidate appearance in elections, and measuring political corruption.