Let’s say you meet someone at a dinner party, and you really want to know their opinion about some juicy political topic. If you’re me, you might just ask them straight up. But often, there are reasons why you can’t be so forward.
Thankfully, political opinions are not randomly distributed. So if you can glean a few facts about someone, you can often predict their other, more hidden opinions. The challenge is knowing which pieces of small-talk are the most predictive of the jucier questions you can’t quite ask them.
Early theorists in modern political science had high hopes for using new survey techniques to analyze the individual-level psychological and behavorial processes which constitute modern liberal democracy. Berelson (1952), for instance, noted that democratic theory assumes that citizens meet certain requirements related to tolerance, patience, interest, knowledge, and the will to participate. See also the famous book Voting (Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954).
But early research in political behavior was bleak.