Book chapter

Ambivalence in Political Decision Making (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Behavioral research largely treats attitudinal ambivalence as a component of attitude strength. Specifically, attitudinal ambivalence exists when someone simultaneously possesses positive and negative evaluations of a single attitude object. Ambivalent individuals do not have a single "true" attitude about political issues but rather a store of multiple and sometimes conflicting attitudes that they might draw upon at any given time when making a decision. Research has suggested that such ambivalence is quite common when it comes to political attitudes. Thus, understanding the measurement of ambivalence, the sources of ambivalence, and the consequences of ambivalence is critical to understanding political decision-making. Ambivalence measures largely fall within one of two types: Meta-attitudinal measures where individuals assess their own ambivalence and operative measures where researchers construct indicators that assess ambivalence without individuals' cognizance that it is being measured. Most research suggests that operative measures perform better. Research generally assumes that the causes of ambivalence are rooted in individual differences in attitude strength that may result from a host of individual or combined sources. The most common sources of ambivalence researchers focus on are value conflict, differences in political knowledge, Context/Political Environment, and Cross-Cutting Information/Conflicting Networks/Groups. Finally, some of the most prevalent consequences of ambivalence are an increase in susceptibility to influence, an effect on the rate of political participation, and increased variance in vote choice. It is here, in the consequences of ambivalence, where the most direct connection to political decision-making is evident. In a democratic society, the decision centered on for whom one votes, is perhaps, the quintessential political decision.