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Priming Risk: The Accessibility of Uncertainty in Public Policy Decision Making

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  • David L. Eckles
  • Brian F. Schaffner

Abstract

Public opinion plays an important role in affecting policy outcomes. Additionally, risk plays an equally important role in decision making (economic and noneconomic). Yet, we know little about how individuals incorporate risk when forming attitudes on public policy issues. When asked to give an opinion about a policy proposal, individuals are often not presented with information about the uncertainty involved in that proposal and, therefore, may not consider the risks involved in the decision. In this paper, we consider how priming individuals to consider risk may affect the public policy choices they make. We expect that the effect of priming risk will depend on the nature of the policy proposal as well as the respondent’s political knowledge. We offer two tests of our theories utilizing survey experiments soliciting attitudes toward nuclear energy and military action in Iraq. We find that priming citizens to think about the risks involved in taking military action or building nuclear power plants leads to reduced support for those policies, particularly among less educated respondents.

Suggested Citation

  • David L. Eckles & Brian F. Schaffner, 2011. "Priming Risk: The Accessibility of Uncertainty in Public Policy Decision Making," Journal of Insurance Issues, Western Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 34(2), pages 151-171.
  • Handle: RePEc:wri:journl:v:34:y:2011:i:2:p:151-171
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