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Updated 5:00 PM October 25, 2005
 

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ISR receives $7.6M for election studies

The National Science Foundation has awarded $7.6 million to fund the American National Election Studies (ANES), conducted by the Institute for Social Research (ISR) since 1952, through 2009.

The grant includes significant changes in the long-term, internationally emulated study, considered the gold standard in understanding political attitudes and electoral behavior. These include a partnership with Stanford University and a series of methodological innovations that will make the study more powerful and democratic.

"This award allows us to continue the project in new and better ways than ever before," says Arthur Lupia, a research professor at ISR and principal investigator of the grant with Stanford political scientist Jon Krosnick. "We are excited to have Stanford at the helm of the study with us, bringing valuable new expertise in survey design and measurement."

"NSF's ringing endorsement of the project is a wonderful recognition of
50 years of important scholarship by hundreds of social scientists studying elections and will equip them superbly to continue this important work," Krosnick says.

By asking the same questions for more than half a century, before and after each presidential election, the ANES allows analysts to identify trends in public opinion not apparent in snapshot surveys and polls.

Under the grant, ANES researchers also will re-interview a panel of the same participants more than half a dozen times in order to explore the causes and consequences of voting behavior and electoral outcomes. This panel design will provide insight into how election-year politics, including campaign ads, affect citizen judgments of candidates and of a new administration in the formative months of its term.

In addition to helping Americans understand how democracy works, the study will become more diverse and democratic in organization and management, according to Krosnick and Lupia. Starting in January 2006, on online commons will be available, allowing faculty members and graduate students from around the nation to propose new questions for the study and comment on the proposals of others.

The ANES also will incorporate evolving communication technologies that have changed survey interviewing during the last few years. In their face-to-face interviews with respondents, interviewers will use the latest computer-assisted personal interviewing techniques, presenting respondents with visual stimuli, including photographs of politicians and videos of campaign ads.

According to Krosnick and Lupia, this approach will allow the study team to use measurement tools that have been refined in laboratories but rarely administered to representative national samples of adults. One of these tools is reaction time measurement, designed to clarify the non-conscious, automatic processes that inform much thinking and behavior.

"Asking people to explain their thinking yields mostly blind guesses rather than genuine self-insight," Lupia says. "By combining self-reports that measure explicit attitudes and response latency that measures implicit attitudes, we can arrive at a better understanding of sensitive issues including prejudice and stereotyping."

Another innovative technique for measuring sensitive phenomena is audio computer-assisted self-interviewing. Respondents read a sensitive question on a laptop screen and hear the question asked through headphones, and enter their answers directly into the computer. The technique enhances accuracy in reporting sensitive issues and also overcomes literacy limitations.

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