The Self-Interested Public: Understanding the Role of Personal Interest in Americans' Policy Preferences
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A consistent finding in political science is that self-interest has little effect on people’s policy preferences when compared to factors such as political ideology and partisanship. However, the literature on self-interest and preferences has three main limitations. First, past studies often use simple and incomplete measures of self-interest. Second, previous research does not examine whether self-interest interacts with other variables to influence preferences. Finally, the literature does not explore if framing messages in terms of people’s self-interest can affect their preferences. This dissertation addresses these limitations and uses a multi-method approach to explore the effects of self-interest on preferences toward tax, health care, and immigration policies. Fifty in-depth interviews illustrate how people perceive of their self-interest and believe policies will affect them personally. The interviews show how respondents’ subjective self-interest impacts their decision-making and policy preferences. Three survey analysis studies highlight how self-interest moderates and mediates the effects of factors such as ideology or partisanship to influence people’s policy preferences. Lastly, three sets of survey framing experiments demonstrate how messages appealing to people’s self-interest can lead to changes in political attitudes. The results highlight the benefits of a multi-method approach to the study of self-interest. The findings demonstrate the significant role of self-interest in public opinion and American democracy.
Date available in INDIGO2015-03-02T17:28:26Z