Contradiction, Triangulation, and the ANES

This is a guest post written by David Redlawsk, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University and Director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

ANES65thThis post is part of a series celebrating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts will seek to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science. Do you have ideas for additional posts? Please contact us by email (cps-center@umich.edu) or Twitter (@umisrcps).

For me, the American National Election Studies (ANES) goes back to my undergraduate days at Duke in the late 1970’s. In my voting behavior class we read The American Voter and The Changing American Voter. I personally did NOT “like” the view of voters from the American Voter, the basic sense that voters were not really competent. So The Changing American Voter, which suggested that voters were more issue-oriented (and thus more competent to hold representatives accountable), appealed to me. Both books were based on ANES data, and I thought it was interesting that they came to different conclusions (of course the argument was that things had “changed” in the late 60’s leading to more issue-oriented voters).

As it turns out, of course, there is a strong critique of The Changing American Voter that comes because the ANES made major question wording and response option changes in 1964 versus prior studies. Bishop, Oldendick, and Tuchfarber (1978a; 1978b), Brunk (1978), and Sullivan et al. (1978) all addressed this issue. For me it made it clear that question design was critical to understanding public opinion.

While my own work has tended to be more experimental, my first journal publication after starting my Ph.D. and after trying other directions for a career, required the ANES in order for us to validate our experimental work. Had we not had the ANES data from which we could construct our Voting Correctly measure, our findings might have remained an interesting (maybe) lab result. Instead they became a core part of our research, both in our APSR paper Voting Correctly (Lau and Redlawsk, APSR 1997) and our book How Voters Decide (Lau and Redlawsk, 2006, Cambridge University Press), both of which have been received with some interest in the discipline.

As I transitioned to doing more survey research and directing the survey center at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, the basic things I learned about question design from the ANES have been important to my work. Overall, ANES has benefited my research and teaching.

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