Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two Ways to Feel Neutral

Now here's a clever idea, looking at neutrality.  The idea of feeling neutral about political candidates or parties or whatever.  What's clever is the author argues there are two kinds of neutrality, and that the differences really matter.  There is:
  • ambivalence, which is basically a balance between positive and negative attitudes about some object (a political actor or institution or issue)
  • indifference, a complete lack of affect but apparently not brain-dead
So what?  There's a cool angle here, because one is truly different from the other, and the political ramifications are potentially significant.  This study in the latest issue of The Journal of Politics explores the two and why they matter in political participation.  One of the major findings is a duh moment, that ambivalent people are more likely to participate than indifferent ones.  At least they have some affect, even if by some magical algebraic formula it more or less comes out a tie.  While this is not surprising, the argument that neutrality is more than a single concept has theoretical merit and may explain other findings.

The real question for me is not who are the indifferent -- they resemble the apolitical or chronic know-nothings -- but who are the ambivalent.  The author here uses the traditional like/dislike questions from the American National Election Studies to measure this, but I have some concerns.  Often respondents pony up likes and dislikes in odd ways and I'm not completely comfortable with calling a raw count ambivalence.  Unfortunately I don't have a better solution, and it's not my study, so let's go with it for now.  Maybe buried in the text I missed an explanation of who is indifferent versus ambivalent.  If someone finds it, let me know, but I'd love a breakdown by SES and political factors, including knowledge.

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