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Reconceiving Decision-Making in Democratic Politics

Attention, Choice, and Public Policy

Most models of political decision-making maintain that individual preferences remain relatively constant. Why, then, are there often sudden abrupt changes in public opinion on political issues? Or total reversals by politicians on specific issues? Bryan D. Jones answers these questions by innovatively connecting insights from cognitive science and rational choice theory to political life.

Individuals and political systems alike, Jones argues, tend to be attentive to only one issue at a time. Using numerous examples from elections, public opinion polls, congressional deliberations, and of bureaucratic decision-making, he shows how shifting attentiveness can and does alter choices and political outcomes—even when underlying preferences remain relatively fixed. An individual, for example, may initially decide to vote for a candidate because of her stand on spending but change his vote when he learns of her position on abortion, never really balancing the two options.

285 pages | 25 figures, 9 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1994

Political Science: American Government and Politics

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction: A Nonmarginalist Approach for Political Science
Pt. 1: The Paradox of Temporal Political Choice
1: Attention and Agendas in Politics
2: Rationality in Political Choice
3: Attention and Temporal Choice in Politics
4: A Change of Mind or a Change of Focus?
5: Raising and Focusing Attention in the Mass Public
Pt. 2: The Paradox of Issue Evolution
6: Macropolitics: Is Political Conflict Recurrent?
7: Policy Subsystems and the Processing of Issues
8: The Serial Policy Shift
9: Governments as Adaptive Systems
10: Political Choice and Democratic Governance
Appendix: Spatial Choice Theory and Attentional Dynamics


International Political Science Association's Research Committee on the Structure and Organization of Government (SOG): Charles A. Levine Memorial Book Prize

APSA Political Psychology Section: Robert E. Lane Award

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