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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  It is not clear why such slight wording changes should produce such different attitude structures among the least informed, but it is notable that even though the poor people question prompts ill- informed respondents to think about spending in basically the same way that well-informed people do, this change results paradoxically in larger information effects. The reason for this is that well- and ill-informed respondents shared essentially the same feelings toward welfare recipients and the same levels of concern for social equality, but the least knowledgeable felt more positively toward poor people (with a mean thermometer score of 74) than the most knowledgeable (who have a mean score of 67), and they also were more likely to hold government responsible for helping the poor (with a mean of 3.8 for the lowest quartile compared to 2.9 for the highest). 13 Because feelings toward welfare recipients are unrelated to levels of political knowledge, this simple attitude structure produces opinions that are similar to those of the well informed. In this case, it would appear that the desert heuristic does indeed compensate to some degree for lower levels of political knowledge. But because the ill informed have more positive feelings toward poor people and also stronger beliefs that government should do more to help the poor, their reliance on these attitudes in the poor people question drives their opinions away from those of well-informed respondents. Wording effects such as these can result from convergence behavior that inclines ill-informed respondents to draw from different attitude structures or information processing strategies than the well informed. This example illustrates how the composition of attitude structures can moderate the appearance of information effects, even in questions about the same topic. Information effects can appear not only when questions prime the ill informed to draw from different considerations than the well informed (as will be illustrated in the gay rights examples later in this paper), but also, as this example shows, when questions lead both groups to draw from the same mix of considerations. Patterns in the size and direction of information effects might therefore follow patterns of divergence in attitude structures and heuristic strategies across levels of political knowledge. In such cases, 13 Mean differences in feeling thermometer scores for poor people are significantly different among the highest and lowest knowledge quartiles, t(758)=5.33, p<.001, as are mean differences in support for government-guaranteed standards of living, t(692)=6.36, p<.001. Differences between quartiles for the other two variables are not statistically significant.

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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It is not clear why such slight wording changes should produce such different attitude structures
among the least informed, but it is notable that even though the poor people question prompts ill-
informed respondents to think about spending in basically the same way that well-informed people
do, this change results paradoxically in larger information effects. The reason for this is that well-
and ill-informed respondents shared essentially the same feelings toward welfare recipients and the
same levels of concern for social equality, but the least knowledgeable felt more positively toward
poor people (with a mean thermometer score of 74) than the most knowledgeable (who have a mean
score of 67), and they also were more likely to hold government responsible for helping the poor
(with a mean of 3.8 for the lowest quartile compared to 2.9 for the highest).
13
Because feelings
toward welfare recipients are unrelated to levels of political knowledge, this simple attitude structure
produces opinions that are similar to those of the well informed. In this case, it would appear that the
desert heuristic does indeed compensate to some degree for lower levels of political knowledge. But
because the ill informed have more positive feelings toward poor people and also stronger beliefs
that government should do more to help the poor, their reliance on these attitudes in the poor people
question drives their opinions away from those of well-informed respondents.
Wording effects such as these can result from convergence behavior that inclines ill-informed
respondents to draw from different attitude structures or information processing strategies than the
well informed. This example illustrates how the composition of attitude structures can moderate the
appearance of information effects, even in questions about the same topic. Information effects can
appear not only when questions prime the ill informed to draw from different considerations than the
well informed (as will be illustrated in the gay rights examples later in this paper), but also, as this
example shows, when questions lead both groups to draw from the same mix of considerations.
Patterns in the size and direction of information effects might therefore follow patterns of divergence
in attitude structures and heuristic strategies across levels of political knowledge. In such cases,
13 Mean differences in feeling thermometer scores for poor people are significantly different among the highest
and lowest knowledge quartiles, t(758)=5.33, p<.001, as are mean differences in support for government-guaranteed
standards of living, t(692)=6.36, p<.001. Differences between quartiles for the other two variables are not
statistically significant.


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