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Question Order Effects on Reported Memories and Perceptions Regarding the Iraq War


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Principal Investigator(s):

Gary C. Jacobson
University of California, San Diego
Email: gjacobso@ucsd.edu
Home Page: http://polisci.ucsd.edu/faculty/jacobson.html

Sample size: 1030
Field period: 1/23/2008 - 1/29/2008

 

Abstract:

Opinions on the Iraq War have become highly polarized along party lines. Evidence from the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study suggested that partisan differences were sharpened by standard modes of dissonance reduction, including misperception and misremembering. For example, in the fall of 2006, a majority of Republicans continued to believe that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction at the time the U.S. invaded. The CCES data also suggest that many of the war’s opponents, primarily Democrats, have reconstructed their memories to match their current disenchantment with the war, with less than half the proportion remembering having supported the war at it’s outset than actually did in poll taken at the time. These findings were generated by a survey with pre- and post-election waves, each of which asked a substantial battery of questions regarding the president and the Iraq War as well as other politically charged questions. With such extensive priming (the memory questions came in the second wave), the psychological pressure to avoid cognitive dissonance may have been at a peak. To determine whether this is the case, my TESS experiment asked the retrospective questions regarding WMD and support for the war in three different question-order treatments. The results indicate that priming was not the source of misinterpretation and misremembering; these phenomena are thus real, not mere artifacts of question order or survey content.

Hypotheses:

1. The order of questions would reports of current and/or recalled beliefs about Iraq’s WMD and support for the war.

2. Priming respondents with questions regarding their party identification, approval of President Bush’s performance, and the effects of the Iraq War on US security increased the incidence of dissonance reduction (motivated reasoning) among partisan respondents.

Experimental Manipulations:

Table 3 TESS Question Order

Form A (N=502)

Memory - WMD
Memory – supporting war
Current belief -WMD
Was Iraq War the right decision?
Iraq and US security
Party ID
Approval of Bush
Registered voter

Form B (N=266)

Current belief -WMD
Was Iraq War the right decision?
Memory - WMD
Memory – supporting war
Iraq and US security
Party ID
Approval of Bush
Registered voter

Form C (N=262)

Party ID
Approval of Bush
Iraq and US security
Current belief -WMD
Was Iraq War the right decision?
Memory - WMD
Memory – supporting war
Registered voter

Key Dependent Variables:

Support for the Iraq War
Memory of support for the Iraq War in 2003
Belief in Iraq's WMD
Memory of belief in Iraq's WMD in 2003

Summary of Findings:

The current and remembered views of the Iraq War and its principal rationale expressed by respondents to the TESS survey were consistent with those expressed by respondents in the 2006 CCES, and the results of this experiment suggest that these results were not influenced significantly by the order in which questions about remembered and current beliefs or other political opinions were asked.

References:

Gary C. Jacobson "Perception, Memory, and the Partisan Polarization of Opinion on the Iraq War," POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY, forthcoming.

Gary C. Jacobson, A DIVIDER, NOT A UNITER: GEORGE W. BUSH AND THE
AMERICAN PEOPLE, Second Edition (Longman, forthcoming), Chapter 9.

Gary C. Jacobson, "Question Order Effects on Reported Memories
and Perceptions Regarding the Iraq War, " TESS Report, October 2009.

Gary C. Jacobson, "Perception, Memory, and the Partisan Polarization of Opinion on the Iraq War," presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, August 28-31, 2008.


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