AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Phil Jones and Matt Holleque for research assistance, as well as Herb Asher, Adam Berinsky, Marc Hetherington, Dan Hopkins, Jennifer Jerit, Stacy Pelika, Dhavan Shah, and participants in workshops at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin for helpful comments.
Polls and Elections: Opinion Formation, Polarization, and Presidential Reelection
Article first published online: 17 JUL 2009
© 2009 Center for the Study of the Presidency
Presidential Studies Quarterly
Volume 39, Issue 3, pages 619–635, September 2009
How to Cite
BURDEN, B. C. and HILLYGUS, D. S. (2009), Polls and Elections: Opinion Formation, Polarization, and Presidential Reelection. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 39: 619–635. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-5705.2009.03693.x
- Issue published online: 17 JUL 2009
- Article first published online: 17 JUL 2009
The authors examine the dynamics of public opinion formation and change around a sitting president and their implications for reelection contests. Because of the biases inherent in information processing and the information environment, two distinct, but simultaneous, effects of citizen learning during a presidential term are expected. For those with prior opinions of the president, learning contributes to more polarized evaluations of the president. For those initially uncertain about the president, learning contributes to opinion formation about the president. Because the gap in uncertainty generally favors the incumbent over a lesser-known challenger, races with an incumbent presidential candidate are typically marked, perhaps paradoxically, by both a polarization of public opinion and an incumbency advantage.