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Big Issue, Little Opinion

- June 24, 2009

About a month ago, I posted a “query on the Monkey Cage”:https://themonkeycage.org/2009/05/do_supreme_court_battles_affec.html about whether we had systematic evidence that Supreme Court nomination battles affected the public opinion of presidents and parties. “William Wilkerson”:http://employees.oneonta.edu/wilkerwr/ sent in this response to the post:

bq. One of the commenters noted that they figured that nominations were an elite game. This made sense at the time. A small piece of evidence in support is the NYTimes poll out today which showed that 58% had no opinion or were undecided on her nomination and 56% had no opinion on what the Senate should do. (Those that did have an opinion were 3.5 to 1 in favor of her.) An idea for a post: is this notably high undecided segment typical of supreme court nominations? Is there another area of political life where so much coverage produces this level of undecideds?

I asked both “Adam Berinsky”:http://web.mit.edu/berinsky/www/ and “Pat Egan”:http://politics.as.nyu.edu/object/PatrickEgan.html this question. Adam responded that you can get similar responses when asking people about particular programs and giving them a don’t know options, and also speculated that the respondents in the NY Times poll probably didn’t push people to give an answer (e.g., accepted their initial don’t know response). Pat didn’t recall any examples of such high non-response rates on big public opinion questions, but also suggested paying attention to exactly how the questions were phrased. So I’m throwing the question out to the readers of the Monkey Cage: any other examples of such high non-response rates in US public opinion on issues on which the media is intensely focused? How about in other countries?

I was moved to post this today in particular while watching Gov. Sanford explain his recent decision to “hike the Appalachian Trail”:http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/24146.html, and was wondering whether this would lead to big shifts in popular support for the Governor. A quick look on Google Scholar didn’t seem to reveal much systematic political science research on the effect of extra-marital affairs on public support for politicians beyond some papers on the Lewinsky saga. Anyone out there working on this topic?