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What Do People Know About Politics. PS 120. A Political Pop Quiz. Who is the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? Who is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives? Who is the U.S. Secretary of State? Who is the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services?

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a political pop quiz
A Political Pop Quiz
  • Who is the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?
  • Who is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives?
  • Who is the U.S. Secretary of State?
  • Who is the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services?
  • Who is the Vice President of the United States?
  • How many voting members of the U.S. House of Representatives are there?
  • How many states must ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution for that amendment to be enacted?
  • Who is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?
  • Who is the President of France?
  • Who is the President of the Russian Federation?
a political pop quiz1
A Political Pop Quiz
  • Who is the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? (John G. Roberts, Jr.)
  • Who is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives? (Nancy Pelosi)
  • Who is the U.S. Secretary of State? (Hillary Clinton)
  • Who is the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services? (Charles E. Johnson; Tom Daschle, pending confirmation)
  • Who is the Vice President of the United States? (Joe Biden)
  • How many voting members of the U.S. House of Representatives are there? (435)
  • How many states must ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution for that amendment to be enacted? (3/4)
  • Who is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? (Gordon Brown)
  • Who is the President of France? (Nicolas Sarkozy)
  • Who is the President of the Russian Federation? (Dmitry Medvedev)
different factual question
Different Factual Question
  • Do you happen to know which party had the most members in the House of Representatives in Washington before the elections (this/last) month?
  • What’s the right answer?
  • What percentage of American adults know the correct answer?
why is political knowledge important
Why is political knowledge important?
  • Normatively: more knowledgeable citizens should be better prepared to make informed choices.
  • Substantively:
    • Political information is the nexus between citizen and representative
    • Political information has been shown to be an important variable explaining many forms of political behavior.
early perspectives
Early perspectives
  • Some of the very early survey studies of American public opinion and political behavior found that levels of political knowledge were very low.
  • For example, the authors of The American Voter looked at “issue-knowledge” in 1952 and 1956, and they assumed that an informed issue voter must:
    • Be aware of an issue and have an opinion on it
    • Have some minimal intensity of feeling about it
    • Be able to see that one party or candidate better represents the voter on the issue
but the data says
But the data says …
  • But the authors of TAV did not find much support in their data that many voters satisfied these conditions.
  • Generally, they found that about two-thirds of the voters in their samples could state a position on an issue and tell what the government was doing about it.
  • And that between 40 and 60 percent of those “familiar” with the issue could perceive that the parties were different on the issue and that one party was closer to their own position on the issue.
an interesting intellectual debate
An interesting intellectual debate
  • As we will see for the next few weeks in this class, TAV was very influential in the study of political behavior. They set the intellectual agenda, as well as the methodological approaches for studying political behavior.
  • Their basic conclusion that voters were poorly informed was taken as given for much work that followed, until the 1980’s.
  • Work like TAV focused on cues and heuristics, information short-cuts, and other ways in which low-information voting could take place.
information and uncertainty
Information and Uncertainty
  • But in the 1980’s, researchers started to work on a variety of related concepts:
    • Political knowledge
    • Political sophistication
    • Political awareness
    • Exposure to political and civic information
    • Lack of information, uncertainty
key insight in new research
Key insight in new research
  • Political knowledge is not a constant, and is not necessarily a constant with a low value.
  • It varies across voters, across time, across contexts, across countries, across political campaigns …
examples of political knowledge model
Examples of Political Knowledge Model
  • Hispanics and Anglos, 2000-2004 NAES
  • Hispanics, 2006 LPS
conclusion
Conclusion
  • There is important heterogeneity in political knowledge
  • It is an important variable for understanding political behavior
  • Normative ramifications?