Identifying and Measuring Conditional Policy Preferences: The Case of Opening Schools During A Pandemic
An individual’s issue preferences are non-separable when they depend on other issue outcomes (Lacy 2001a), presenting measurement challenges for traditional survey research. We extend this logic to the broader case of conditional preferences, in which policy preferences depend on the status of conditions with inherent levels of uncertainty -- and are not necessarily policies themselves. We demonstrate new approaches for measuring conditional preferences in two large-scale survey experiments regarding the conditions under which citizens would support reopening schools in their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. By drawing on recently-developed methods at the intersection of machine learning and causal inference, we identify which citizens are most likely to have school reopening preferences that depend on additional considerations. The results highlight the advantages of using such approaches to measure conditional preferences, which represent an underappreciated and general phenomenon in public opinion.