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Exploring the Unknown: Predicting the Responses of Publics not yet Surveyed

Publication Abstract

Inglehart, Ronald F., and Christian Welzel. 2005. "Exploring the Unknown: Predicting the Responses of Publics not yet Surveyed." International Review of Sociology, 15(1): 173-201.

This article argues that cultural change is roughly predictable: to a large extent, it is shaped by a few variables included in a model of cultural modernization that is presented here. The beliefs and values of a society's people are also affected by unique world events and country-specific factors that would not fit into a general model, such as a given society's political parties and leaders, so our predictions will not be precisely accurate. Nevertheless, in this article we will stick our necks out and predict the locations on two major cultural dimensions of all the countries likely to be included in the next wave of the World Values Survey, to be carried out in 2005-2006. Using a simple predictive model based on our revised version of modernization theory, we first 'predict' and test the positions that 80 societies should have on a two major dimensions of cross-cultural variation in the most recent wave of surveys (carried out in 1999-2001); we find that our predictions are surprisingly accurate: the average prediction for a given country falls within a small radius of the location that is actually observed on the cross-cultural map (specifically: the average prediction and the actual location fall within a circle that occupies less than two percent of the map's area). We then use this same model to predict the survey responses that we expect to find for 120 countries that are most likely to be surveyed in the next wave of surveys, in 2005-2006. Almost half of these countries have not been included in our previous surveys (and a number have never been covered in any survey of which we are aware). These are genuine blind predictions - which we believe is an important challenge for social scientists. Our predictions will not be exactly correct; in some cases, they will not even be in the right ballpark. But we are confident that in the great majority of cases, they will come much closer to the observed results than would random guesses. We are confident that these a priori predictions will be reasonably close to the results obtained from actual fieldwork, because analysis of data from more than 60 societies surveyed in previous waves of the World Values Surveys and European Values Surveys indicates that cross-cultural differences in basic values have a surprisingly consistent relationship with economic development. The values and beliefs of mass publics vary a great deal cross-nationally, but they tend to vary in a roughly predictable way that can be derived from a revised version of modernization theory.

DOI:10.1080/03906700500038611 (Full Text)

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