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The Ambivalent PartisanHow Critical Loyalty Promotes Democracy$

Howard G. Lavine, Christopher D. Johnston, and Marco R. Steenbergen

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199772759

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199772759.001.0001

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(p.251) Appendix B: Question Wording for the Traditional Engagement Variables

(p.251) Appendix B: Question Wording for the Traditional Engagement Variables

The Ambivalent Partisan
Oxford University Press

Throughout the book, we have treated partisan strength, interest in politics, and political sophistication as control variables. As our analyses using the ANES cumulative file cover almost 30 years of electoral history, we have operationalized these “competitor” variables using indicators that are consistently available in the ANES. Those indicators are shown in the following sections.

Partisan Strength

Our partisan strength measure is based on the standard ANES item battery for partisanship. The first question in this battery is as follows:

  • Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?

  • If the person indicates Democrat or Republican, then the follow-up question is as follows:

  • Would you call yourself a strong Democrat/Republican or a not very strong Democrat/Republican?

  • For respondents who initially say they are Independents, the follow-up is as follows:

  • Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican or Democratic Party?

Taken together, the three items produce the seven-point partisan identification scale: 0 = strong Democrat; 1 = weak Democrat; 2 = leaning Democrat; 3 = true Independent; 4 = leaning Republican; 5 = weak Republican; and 6 = strong Republican.

To obtain the partisan strength measure, we fold this scale around the category of true Independents. Consequently, the partisan strength scale has four categories: 0 = true Independent; 1 = leaning partisan; 2 = weak partisan; and 3 = strong partisan.

(p.252) Interest in Politics

Our measure of interest in politics is based on two items that tap interest in elections and public affairs. The first component is based on the following question:

Some people don’t pay much attention to political campaigns. How about you, would you say that you have been very much interested, somewhat interested, or not much interested in following the political campaigns (so far) this year?1

The second component was measured using the following question:

Some people seem to follow what’s going on in government and public affairs most of the time, whether there’s an election going on or not. Others aren’t that interested. Would you say you follow what’s going on in government and public affairs most of the time, some of the time, only now and then, or hardly at all?

We recoded both items so that high values reflect a high level of interest. We then added the two components together and scaled the resulting measure to have a 0–1 range. For the period 1980–2004, the two items correlate at .51.

Political Sophistication

We measure political sophistication as a function of objective and subjective knowledge. The objective measure reflects knowledge of the composition of the House of Representatives:

Do you happen to know which party had the most Congressmen in Washington before the election this/last month?

This was coded 1 for a correct answer and 0 for an incorrect answer. The subjective level of knowledge is based on the assessment by the interviewer. At the end of the interview, each interviewer was asked whether the respondent’s general level of information about politics and public affairs seemed (1) very high, (2) fairly high, (3) average, (4) fairly low, or (5) very low. We recoded this item so that high values reflect higher knowledge. We added the two items and scaled them to a 0–1 range. For the period 1980–2004, the two measures correlate at .39.


(1) Minor deviations in the wording of this (and the other) item occurred from survey to survey.