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10/21/92

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Book on how public reasons about politics wins national award

STANFORD -- A book on American political psychology co-authored by two Stanford University professors and one from the University of California-Berkeley has been named the best U.S.- published book of 1991 on government, politics or international affairs. The American Political Science Association's annual Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award was presented on Sept. 3 in Chicago to Paul M. Sniderman and Richard A. Brody, both professors in Stanford's political science department, and Philip E. Tetlock, a professor of psychology at Berkeley.

Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology, published by Cambridge University Press, was praised for advancing understanding of how the public, "which to a large extent is disinterested and ill-informed about political affairs, reasons about its many political choices."

Conventional wisdom stresses how little attention most people pay to political issues and the lack of consistency in their political opinions. The authors of the book, however, present studies that demonstrate that ordinary people are capable of reasoning dependably about political issues, even if they have only a limited knowledge of politics and of specific issues. Studies address specific political choices, such as those about affirmative action policy in light of historical racism and about civil liberties for homosexuals in light of the AIDS epidemic.

Including work by 15 other authors, the book brings a "surprising coherence" to the subject of how the public reasons, the selection committee noted. In forming their opinions, people use "readily accessible clues," with selection and linkage of those clues varying greatly according to a person's educational level, the authors say.

The research presented also indicates that public opinions are influenced by "situational factors" that reveal "surprising prejudices of liberals and conservatives, " the association's selection committee said.

"The result is a theoretically rich book filled with counterintuitive findings that help set a persuasive agenda for future thinking about politics."

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