Estimating Individuals’ Political Perceptions While Adjusting for Differential Item Functioning



Questions about people’s perceptions of politicians or other political actors are of central interest in a wide variety of research areas. But measuring these perceptions is difficult in part because respondents may use survey response scales in different ways. In a classic article, Aldrich and McKelvey (1977) introduce a method adjusting for such differential item functioning by assuming that all respondents perceive political stimuli identically. I propose a modeling approach built on the Aldrich and McKelvey framework but incorporating anchoring vignettes. This approach allows for scale use adjustments without assuming that all respondents perceive a given politician identically. I apply this model to data on Americans’ perceptions of parties, elected officials, and other political actors, showing that, contrary to previous arguments, most variation in ideology ratings is due not to differing scale use, but to differences in underlying perceptions. Specifically, while perceptions of Republican politicians and the Republican party show no significant differences by respondent partisanship, Democratic and Republican respondents differ strongly in their perceptions of the ideology of Democratic political actors as well as the Supreme Court.

Publisher's Version

Last updated on 01/25/2020