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The Receive-Accept-Sample Model
---Do Political Attitudes Exist?
The 1987 Pilot Study
The Model
1.Any reason that might induce an individual to decide a political issue one way or the other.
2. A compound of cognition and affect.
Two types of political messages:
Persuasive messages: arguments or images providing a reason for taking a position or point of view; if
accepted by an individual, they become considerations.
Cueing messages: carried in elite discourse, consist of “contextual information” about the ideological or
partisan implications of a persuasive messages.
They enable citizens to perceive relationships between the persuasive messages they receive and their
political predispositions, which in turn permits them to respond critically to the persuasive messages.
Reception Axiom
Resistance Axiom
The RAS Model
Accessibility Axiom
Response Axiom
The greater a person’s level
of cognitive engagement
with an issue, the more
likely he or she is to be
exposed to and comprehend
– in a word, to receive –
to resist
inconsistent with their
political predispositions,
but they do so only to the
The more recently a
extent that they possess the
consideration has been
contextual information
called to mind or thought
necessary to perceive a
about, the less time it takes
relationship between the
to retrieve that consideration
message and their
or related considerations
from memory and bring
them to answer
the top of the head
for by
survey questions
averaging across the
considerations that are
immediately salient or
accessible to them.
1987 Pilot Study
450 persons
The 1987 Pilot Study
357 persons
A series of standard issue questions on federal job guarantees, the proper level of government
services, and aid to blacks
Still thinking about question you just answered. I’d
like you to tell me what ideas came to mind as you
were answering that question. Exactly what things
went through your mind?
Without waiting for the respondent to
answer, they asked the respondent to
discuss particular phrases and ideas in
the question.
1987 Pilot Study
Retrospective probes:
1.After people had answered the question
2.To elicit a sort of “memory dump”
Stop-and-think probes:
1.Before respondents could answer the question
2.To induce people to think more carefully
3.To elicit the range of considerations as nondirectively as possible
1987 Pilot Study
1. Different rate
2. The difficulty in sharply distinguishing one
“consideration” from another
3. Small sample size
4. Less politically aware respondents drop out of
surveys at disproportionately high rates
5. The unusually short time
The Model
A1 Reception Axiom
Persuasive messages + Cueing messages
1. concerned with how individuals acquire information from the environment and
convert it into opinion statements.
2. survey measures that capture cognitive engagement with politics outperform measures
of affective engagement in explaining most aspects of public opinion.
The Model
Cognitive engagement
Political attentiveness or political awareness
 a general measure knowledge
 It does not directly test individuals’ information about or
attention to a particular issue at a particular time but more
narrowly focused measures of awareness to intellectual
engagement with foreign policy issues or race policy
A1 indicates nothing about the sources of the political communications that shape mass opinion. All that is
claimed in A1 is that reception of politically relevant communications is positively associated with intellectual
engagement with a given issue.
The Model
A2 Resistance Axiom
• The probability of individuals acquiring cueing information depends on
their levels of awareness of each given issue.
• A1 and A2 together imply that the likelihood of resisting persuasive communications
that are inconsistent with one’s political predispositions rises with a person’s level of
political attentiveness.
• This postulate makes no allowance for citizens to think, reason, or deliberate about politics.
The Model
A2 Resistance Axiom
Converse maintains that individuals respond critically to the political
ideas they encounter, they rely on contextual information from elites
about how different ideas “go together” and thereby “constrain” one
• Psychological literature on opinion:
➡McGuire: people tend to accept their opinion leadership more readily.
The more abstract the link between a predisposition and a related policy
issue, the greater the amount or obscurity of knowledge necessary to perceive
the linkage
The Model
A3 Accessibility Axiom
• The longer it has been since a consideration or related idea has been
activated, the less likely it is to be accessible at the top of the head. A
long unused set of considerations may be completely inaccessible.
The Model
A4 Response Axiom
Persons who have been asked a survey question do not normally canvass
their minds for all considerations relevant to the given issue; rather, they
answer the question on the basis of whatever considerations are
accessible” at the top of the head”.
The Model
A4 Response Axiom
Example: Four-stage model ------ Tourangeau and Rasinski
(1) interpret the question to determine what the issue before them really is
(2) canvass their minds for relevant thoughts
(3) integrate their thoughts into a coherent opinion
(4) map that opinion onto response options available in the question.
The Model
Survey response
Opinion statement
Receive now information
Decide whether
to accept it
Sample at the
moment of
answering questions
D1 Ambivalence Deduction
• A2 Resistance Axiom
• Citizens will be unlikely to exhibit high levels of resistance to
arguments that are inconsistent with their values, interests, or other
1. Make a count of the number of opposing remarks by a person that can be
paired against each other.
Any conflict score above zero indicates that the person experiences some degree of internal conflict on
the given issue.
2. Make a count of the number of times people spontaneously express
ambivalence or difficulty in making up their minds
“I see merit in both sides”, “that’s a tough question”; “depends”; “both are valid points
3. Star codes indicate a directional thrust to the comment, but also some
ambivalence with respect to that direction.
“Although I think X, I nevertheless favors Y.”
4. A count of the ambivalence indices on which a person scored + 1 of
the Response Axiom leads us to expect a strong relationship between the
responses people make to closed-ended policy questions and the ideas that
are at the top of their heads as they do so. Because it claims that people
answer survey questions on the basis of the ideas that are most salient to
them at the moment of response.
D3 Variability in people’s response to survey questions
People form conflicting considerations on most issues, and base their survey
responses on whichever of these considerations happen to be at the top of the
head at the moment of response.
The model also has strong implications for the structure of this response
instability so long as the flow of information in the political environment remains
D4 Response instability consists almost
exclusively of chance variation around a largely
stable central tendency
from A1, more awareness persons are more likely to possess the cueing
messages necessary to respond to incoming information in a critical
manner. They are more likely than less informed persons to reject
information that conflicts with their values and to accept only
information that is consistent.
Better informed persons are more likely to possess the cueing
information necessary to reject communication inconsistent with their
Test of D5:
Respondents were asked to state their position on a seven-point scale.
Then, in a final stage, they were asked to indicate the position of several
prominent political figures or groups on this scale.
D5 will make it more likely that they will form considerations that
are homogeneously consistent with their values.
Test of D6: Began by classifying each person’s considerations as
“consistent” with their underlying ideology or “inconsistent”.
Then, the homogeneity will lead, inter alia, to greater
response stability over time.
The more political aware persons exhibit less random
instability in their closed-ended attitude reports.
(Dean and Moran, 1977; Feldman, 1989; Zaller, 1991)
Attitudes stability should be weaker for issues on which partisan
divisions are hazy or nonexistent, because in such cases the public
gets few message cues.
The degree of public attentiveness to an issue is generally high, it follows
that attitude statements on this issue will exhibit less variability, all else
equal, than will attitude statements on a more remote or abstract issue.
Individuals who care more strongly about issues, or who are members of
what Converse has called “issue publics”, will pay more attention to
issues and hence exhibit less chance variability in their attitude
statements about these issues.
People’s responses to particular questions may vary stochastically around
their equilibrium points, but the equilibrium points themselves should
remain constant as long as the environment remains stable.
D12 changes in the directional thrust of people’s
open-ended remarks are associated with changes
in the direction of their closed-ended remarks
person who makes mostly liberal comments when discussing a policy issue at
the first interview and mostly conservative remarks at the second review
would be expected to change her closed-ended response from liberal to
conservatives as well.
Attitude2 = b0 + b1 Attitude1 + b2 Considerations1 + b3 Considerations2
People who mention an equal number of opposing considerations should
be stable only as often as could be expected by chance along, which is 50
percent of the time.
A3 Accessibility Axiom
Different question orders may then bring different considerations to the
top of people’s memory heaps, thereby increasing chances that they will
affect responses to subsequent questions.
Remain at the top of a heap of idea in one’s memory, readily
available for use.
D15 The intrusion of unexpected or novel
considerations into the question-answering process
would not be expected to affect all respondents
Some people may possess considerations that are so consistent in support of
one side of an issue that the admission of additional considerations should
have no effect.
Others, may be deeply ambivalent on the issue may possess a roughly even
balance of considerations for and against the issue.
the persons who should be most strongly affected by artificial changes in question order.
D16 – D18
People who reported that they had mixed feelings about an issue were quite
susceptible to question-order effects, or what call “carryover effects”: Race
of interviewer; Reference groups; Priming effects. The mechanism
responsible for each of these effects is the tendency for people to respond to
question at least partly on the basis of whatever ideas are immediately
salient to them.
Race of interviewer
Shortly after 1986, New York Times poll found that President Reagan’s
approval rate among black was 37 percent, a Washington Post poll
estimated that black approval of Reagan was only 23 percent.
While the Times followed normal interview procedures, the Post used
black interviewers who informed their black respondents that they would
be participating in a study of the attitudes of black Americans.
Reference groups
In a classic social psychology experiment, Charters and Newcomb (1958)
found that Catholics were more likely to state attitudes that were
consistent with Church doctrine, their religion was made salient to them.
Salience was achieved by having a priest make a brief appearance in the
room near the time at which the questionnaire was administered.
“Priming effects” of television news
Iyengar (1991) has shown that TV news often functions to make ideas
more accessible for use in answering questions about the attribution of
social and political responsibility.
Priming effects may be explained by the assumption that individuals do
not typically possess “just one attitude” toward issues, but serval
opinions, and that which of these potential opinions they report depends
on the information that has been most recently made salient to them.
D20 The type of priming or question-order effect is
also explainable from the RAS model.
Ideological orientations made salient to them just prior to answering
policy items, those respondents who have such an orientation are more
likely to rely on it as a consideration in formulating responses to
subsequent policy questions, thereby making these responses more
strongly correlated with their ideological positions and hence also
more ideologically consistent with one another.
With increases in political awareness, come increases in critical
capacity and hence in the internal consistency of the considerations one
forms. More politically aware persons should be expected to be more
non centrist or extreme in their attitude reports.
If political awareness is a cause of extreme attitude reports,
individuals can report extreme attitudes more quickly with less
hesitation before answering, than less extreme ones.
Reason: the Accessibility Axiom contends that considerations that have
been more recently activated take less time to locate and call to the top
of the head for use. Political awareness ought to be associated with
more recent activation of one’s political thoughts and hence with
quicker reporting of one’s attitudes. More extreme the attitudes, the
more quickly reported.
D23 & D24
Stability of response over time, and strength of correlation between the
response and related attitudes, which may be called predictive reliability.
Both would be expected to be higher among respondents engaging in the
stop-and-think procedure than among those answering questions in the
normal fashion.
Response = b0 + b1Form + b2Ideology + b3Form * Ideology
Ambivalence Deduction which asserts that individuals feel differently
toward different aspects of most issues; and the Response Axiom, which
asserts that individuals base their survey responses on the considerations
that are most immediately salient to them.
Individuals do not normally have a single, fixed attitude on issues - is
probably the more unfamiliar and hence potentially controversial.
Individuals do not typically possess “true attitudes” on issues, as
conventional theorizing assumes, but a series of partially independent and
often inconsistent ones. Person’s attitudes is expressed at different times
depends on which has been made most immediately salient by chance and
the details of questionnaire construction, especially the order and framing
of questions.
J.Zaller(1992), The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, Cambridge
University Press
Thank you