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Rationalization and Derivation Processes in Survey Studies of Political Candidate Evaluation

Wendy M. Rahn, Jon A. Krosnick and Marijke Breuning
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 38, No. 3 (Aug., 1994), pp. 582-600
DOI: 10.2307/2111598
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111598
Page Count: 19
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Rationalization and Derivation Processes in Survey Studies of Political Candidate Evaluation
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Abstract

In order to assess the determinants of voters' candidate preferences, some analysts have examined responses to open-ended questions that ask citizens what might make them vote for or against a particular candidate. However, psychological theory and research suggest that the success of these reports in predicting voting may be because they reflect rationalizations of preferences rather than the reasons that give rise to them. And indeed, using data from a panel survey conducted during the 1990 elections in Ohio, we found that voters' reports of the reasons for their preferences were principally rationalizations. Rationalization was especially strong among politically involved voters and those with little exposure to the media. Derivation of preferences from likes and dislikes was most pronounced among voters who made up their minds late in the campaign. These findings support the on-line model of voter decision making and suggest that open-ended questions asking voters about their likes and dislikes are not well suited to revealing the real reasons for their preferences.

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