NSF grant funds study of what Americans think about U.S. politics

Shanto Iyengar
Shanto Iyengar

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, what the American electorate is thinking is top of mind for many. That’s especially true for political scientist SHANTO IYENGAR, who will spend the next two years asking Americans what they think about U.S. politics.

Thanks to a $3.825 million grant Stanford is receiving from the National Science Foundation, Iyengar will co-lead a team with colleagues from Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in conducting surveys designed to shed light on the dynamics of voter decision-making. The researchers hope to uncover the determinants of vote choice and political participation in the next presidential election.

The project, American National Election Studies (ANES), will focus on questions that go to the heart of democratic governance, including citizens’ satisfaction with their government and their ability to hold political leaders accountable. Stanford’s Institute for Research in the Social Sciences and Michigan have partnered on such surveys for 12 years. This year’s grant totals $10.35 million for both organizations.

The 2020 study will include a new sample of participants. But the researchers also will revisit people they surveyed in 2016 to see if their attitudes have changed following the election of President Donald Trump.

“Examining these long-term changes in American public opinion over an unusually turbulent period of national politics will be revealing,” said Iyengar, professor of political science and director of the Political Communication Laboratory. He is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

The researchers will survey at least 3,500 Americans, recruited by mail, to complete questionnaires online. These participants will be recruited in three samples: (1) a new sample of 1,200 Americans, selected and recruited using a high-response-rate protocol developed through extensive testing in 2016; (2) re-interviews with 1,400 respondents who completed the ANES interviews in 2016; and (3) re-interviews with 900 respondents who complete the General Social Survey earlier in 2020.

“These datasets will permit groundbreaking research on many important questions that would not be possible with a single cross-sectional study, providing unique opportunities to map continuity and change in American politics,” Iyengar said. He said researchers also hope to  reshape the trajectory of large-scale survey research.

The mission of the ANES is to inform explanations of election outcomes by providing data that support  hypothesis testing, maximize methodological excellence, measure many variables and promote comparisons across people, contexts and time.