Refutations Affirmed: Conversations concerning the Euro-Barometer Values Battery

By Clarke, Harold D. | Political Research Quarterly, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Refutations Affirmed: Conversations concerning the Euro-Barometer Values Battery


Clarke, Harold D., Political Research Quarterly


The present issue of the Political Research Quarterly includes a stimulating new contribution by Darren Davis to the debate concerning the Euro-Barometer (E-B) battery Davis (2000) argues that the measure of materialist and post-materialist values provided by the battery (the MMP variable) has at best only very limited utility for understanding a variety of important political beliefs, attitudes, and opinions in the American electorate. The purpose of the present article is twofold. First, I will comment on selected methodological issues raised by Davis for enhancing understanding of the measurement of values and value change in advanced industrial and other societies. Second, as a party to the values debate, I will discuss my "conversations in context" critique of the E-B values battery and present new, hitherto unpublished, experimental evidence that buttresses the validity of the critique. Like Davis, I argue that the E-B battery is deeply flawed. My story of the failure of the E-B battery illustrates how the structure and content of a survey instrument can interact with the sociopolitical and economic contexts in which interviews occur to mislead analysts. A larger message is that if the history of science is a reliable guide, research questioning the validity of the E-B battery-however well grounded in fact and logic-is likely to have limited impact, until and unless a credible rival theory appears to challenge the value shift thesis.

Since first advanced nearly three decades ago, Ronald Inglehart's thesis that advanced industrial societies are undergoing a fundamental shift from "materialist" to "postmaterialist" values1 has been the subject of continuing, intense controversy One aspect of the controversy between Inglehart and his critics is methodological, and it focuses on the measurement properties of the values battery employed in the biannual Euro-Barometer (E-B) surveys. The importance of this methodological debate stems from the fact that the E-B values battery has generated the bulk of the empirical evidence marshaled to support the claim that Western democracies are experiencing a highly consequential "silent revolution" in fundamental values. The issue is not only one of the utility of the E-B battery for describing the nature of values and dynamics of value change in mass publics. Rather, if much of the hypothesized movement from materialist to postmaterialist values as measured by the E-B battery is artifactual, the diverse range of political and social phenomena that Inglehart et al. claim can be explained by the hypothesized value shift must be accounted for in other ways.

The present issue of the Political Research Quarterly includes a stimulating new contribution to the debate concerning the E-B battery by Darren Davis. Davis (2000) argues that the measure of materialist and postmaterialist values provided by the battery (the MPM variable)2 has at best only very limited utility for understanding a variety of important political beliefs, attitudes and opinions in the American electorate. The purpose of the present article is twofold. First, I will comment on selected methodological issues raised by Davis for enhancing understanding the measurement of values and value change in advanced industrial and other societies. Second, as a party to the values debate, I will discuss my "conversations in context" critique of the E-B values battery and present new, hitherto unpublished, experimental evidence that buttresses the validity of the critique. Like Davis, I argue that the E-B battery is deeply flawed. My story of the failure of the E-B battery illustrates how the structure and content of a survey instrument can interact with the sociopolitical and economic contexts in which interviews occur to mislead analysts. A larger message is that, if the history of science is a reliable guide, research questioning the validity of the E-B batteryhowever well grounded in fact and logic-is likely to have limited impact, until and unless a credible rival theory appears to challenge the value shift thesis. …

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