'Just thinking': political thought and political attitudes
This dissertation looks at political attitudes. The determinants of political attitudes are numerous, but recent work paid particular attention to information. Information undoubtedly matters, but so does the thought given to information already held. Using data from two originally designed survey-experiments conducted in Brazil and in the U.S., I examine the ways in which thought, alone or in combination with information, affect attitudes from three different angles: the effects of thought on the development, authenticity, and extremity and polarization of political attitudes. Attitude development matters because public opinion polls matter. They inform representatives about what people want, fuel public debate, and affect policymaking. Examining the effects of thought on attitude development is thus of great interest because the value of polls depends heavily on how many voices are heard and how that affects the aggregate distribution of attitudes. Attitude authenticity refers to holding attitudes that are reflective of underlying interests. It also matters because electoral democracy requires a competent citizenry, and citizen competence is partly defined by the citizenry’s ability to express political attitudes and preferences that reflect their interests. This ability is, of course, particularly important during elections and referenda, but also when citizens are asked about their attitudes and preferences in surveys because the latter affect policymaking. Attitude extremity refers to the degree to which one holds an attitude that is further away from the middle. Polarization, on the other hand, is the possible aggregate consequence of attitude extremity. Studying the effects of thought on attitude extremity and polarization is important because it may suggest ways in which public opinion can change when given issues receive increased attention by the media and the political elites. Finally, it is worth noting that the results presented also provide useful insights into survey, and specifically questionnaire design.