Assessing Public Support for Government Policy: Comparing Experimental and Attitudinal Approaches Chapter uri icon


  • © Cambridge University Press 2017. Introduction In a democratic policy system, the management and administration of policy requires attention to the desires of the democratic public. There are a variety of points in the policy process where this opinion could be relevant – including in the implementation stage that is the subject of much attention in public administration research. As policy makers and public managers choose from among various options, they may need information on the public support or opposition to these various options. To assess public support, policy makers and public managers have access to a wide variety of tools. Most research into public support for policies has relied on traditional attitudinal research designs. However, an approach has emerged that makes use of experimental methods to provide specific assessments of support in the form of willingness-to-pay (WTP) for specific policy amenities. This chapter uses the case of public support for a variety of water policies to compare the traditional, attitudinal approaches to assessing policy support to the experimental, WTP approaches. The comparison will illustrate the types of policies and circumstances that best fit each approach. Traditional Approaches to Assess Policy Support The traditional approach to assessing policy support is to ask direct attitudinal questions about specific policies. The respondent is presented with a scale to measure support. This scale can be as simple as allowing respondents to choose between ‘support’ or ‘oppose’ options. More complex scales can provide ordered options (e.g., ‘strongly support’, ‘support’, ‘no opinion’, ‘oppose’, ‘strongly oppose’) or ratio measures (e.g., scales of 0–10 or even 0–100). Public managers and policy makers can analyse the results of these attitudinal approaches in a variety of ways. One can provide a direct summary of the survey results. This may take the form of the percentage of the respondents who choose ‘support’ (or the combination of ‘support’ and ‘strongly support’) compared to ‘oppose’ (or the combination of ‘oppose’ and ‘strongly oppose’). Of course, one can break out the ordered responses in full detail if there is a meaningful interpretation of the results that distinguishes the ‘strong’ versions of each response.

altmetric score

  • 4.1

author list (cited authors)

  • Robinson, S. E., Stoutenborough, J. W., & Vedlitz, A.

citation count

  • 1

editor list (cited editors)

  • Van Ryzin, G. G., James, O., & Jilke, S. R.

Book Title

  • Experiments in Public Management Research

publication date

  • January 2017