Coppock, Alexander, Donald P. Green. 2020. Do Belief Systems Exhibit Dynamic Constraint?. Journal of Politics.


As described in Converse (1964), belief systems are dynamically constrained if a change in one opinion causes a concomitant change in a related opinion. While an enormous literature is dedicated to the study of static constraint (the extent to which individuals hold political views that ``go together’’), dynamic constraint is rarely studied, especially using experimental research designs. We offer a new formalization of the theoretical argument that suggests an identification strategy for detecting dynamic constraint. We present evidence from survey experiments conducted with convenience samples of both the mass public and of political elites. Our results indicate that even among respondents whose belief systems are highly constrained in the static sense, a change in one attitude need not precipitate changes in related attitudes. These experimental results affirm and extend Converse’s thesis about the limited extent of dynamically constrained ideological thinking in the mass public. The lack of dynamic constraint among our elite sample raises the question of how they come to hold political opinions that are constrained in a static sense. We present an experiment that suggests a potential explanation: elites may be more likely to be chided for expressing inconsistent positions.