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Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy

The Bush School of Government and Public Service

Texas A&M University
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Paper by Dr. Xinsheng Liu and Dr. Arnold Vedlitz Accepted for Publication in Policy Studies Journal

“A Micro Model of Problem Definition and Policy Choice: Issue Image, Issue Association, and Policy Support of Power Plants,” a paper by ISTPP researchers Dr. Xinsheng Liu and Dr. Arnold Vedlitz and ISTPP Research Fellow Dr. Scott Robinson has been accepted for publication by Policy Studies Journal. It is available in early view (DOI: 10.1111/psj.12233).

In this paper, the authors propose a theoretical micro model of problem definition and policy choice at the individual level. Through the general framework of behavioral choice, they explore the application of the information-processing theory of public policy to individuals and use data from a national public survey on energy and power plant issues to test empirically the key propositions derived from their model. The researchers hypothesize that individuals define a public problem according to both its issue image (potential to cause harm or benefit) and its issue association (linkages with other public issues), and that these two components of problem definition influence individuals’ policy choices. Issue image was measured by individuals’ ratings of the harmfulness of different types of energy sources – coal, nuclear, and natural gas. Issue association was measured by respondents’ ratings of the importance of jobs, safety, environment, and energy costs when asked to consider construction of either a coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plant in their local community. The respondents’ support for increasing, maintaining, or decreasing the use of coal, nuclear, and natural gas supplied the policy choice measure. The authors also included in their model socioeconomic demographics, ideological and political orientations, and attention to and knowledge of energy issues. The results show that citizens’ policy preferences strongly depend on how they define public problems, particularly how they perceive the image of a public problem and how they associate the problem with other public issues.


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