Preference Coherence

39 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2009 Last revised: 2 Nov 2009

See all articles by Craig M. Burnett

Craig M. Burnett

Hofstra University

Mathew D. McCubbins

Department of Political Science and Law School, Duke University

Date Written: October 29, 2009


A hoary question in political science is what are political preferences and where do they come from? We argue that when people face multidimensional choices they must construct their preferences to cohere with their choice before they can make a decision. One implication of this theory is that individuals who can construct coherent preferences will be able to make their vote choice sooner. We make use of the 2004 National Annenberg Election Study to test this hypothesis and with it the theory of preference construction. With these data, we utilize Optimal Classification to derive our treatment variable: respondents’ level of preference coherence as measured by how well the OC algorithm classifies their responses to attitudinal survey questions. We then examine decision time in an ordered probit framework to generate our results. The findings offer significant support for our theory and have broad implications for the study of individual-level political decision-making.

Keywords: preference formation, preference construction, voting, scaling

Suggested Citation

Burnett, Craig M. and McCubbins, Mathew D., Preference Coherence (October 29, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Craig M. Burnett (Contact Author)

Hofstra University ( email )

Hempstead, NY 11549
United States


Mathew D. McCubbins

Department of Political Science and Law School, Duke University ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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