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Measuring Issue Salience in British Elections : Competing Interpretations of ''Most Important Issue''

Johns, R.A. (2008) Measuring Issue Salience in British Elections : Competing Interpretations of ''Most Important Issue''. Political Research Quarterly, 63 (1). pp. 143-158.

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Abstract

This article is about responses to the 'most important issue' question used in numerous election polls and surveys. Following Wlezien's work, two interpretations of the question can be sketched: (1) personal (the issue most important to the respondent) and (2) contextual (the issue that respondents perceive as topping the national political agenda). Using British Election Study data from 2005, the author shows that issues prominent in that campaign were often cited as most important by respondents who were neither particularly knowledgeable about those issues nor particularly influenced by them when voting. In sum, the contextual interpretation predominates. Hence, whatever else it is, 'most important issue' is not an accurate gauge of salience effects in models of vote choice.