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What do Americans Know about Politics?. 74% can name the VP 70% can name their mayor 58% know that constitutionality is decided by the Supreme Court 55% can name at least one Senator 40% can name their congressional representative 34% can name the Secretary of State

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What do Americans Know about Politics?

  • 74% can name the VP

  • 70% can name their mayor

  • 58% know that constitutionality is decided by the Supreme Court

  • 55% can name at least one Senator

  • 40% can name their congressional representative

  • 34% can name the Secretary of State

  • 25% can name the Speaker of the House

  • 8% can name the Chief Justice of the U.S.


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Rational Ignorance

Anthony Downs

Benefit I > Cost I

Where “I” is gathering and learning political information


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Levels of Conceptualization

  • Ideologues – Rely on abstract ideological concepts to make judgments about political objects.

  • Near-Ideologues – Use ideological terminology, but don’t always use it correctly

  • Group Interest – Evaluate political objects with respect to their treatment of particular groups

  • Nature of the Times – Evaluations of candidates and parties are tied to general perceptions about how things are going.

  • No Issue Content – Focus on personalities or family traditions without any evidence of political thinking.


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Converse’s 1964 Study of Belief Systems

  • Constraint

    • Attitudes are linked to each other

    • One attitude can be predicted from another

  • The Studies

    • Asked opinions of the day

    • Asked likes and dislikes about parties and candidates

    • Survey of candidates for Congress - 1958


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Looking for Evidence of Political Ideology

  • Active use of ideological concepts in likes and dislikes of candidates and parties

  • Issue attitudes that are consistently liberal or conservative

  • Attitudes that are stable over time







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