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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  controlling for information effects imputes to all respondents not knowledge itself but rather the attitude structures of knowledgeable people. <B> The Social Distribution of Policy-Specific Knowledge Information effects might arise not from a lack of general political knowledge per se, but rather from a lack of policy-specific knowledge relevant to the particular question at hand. If levels of general political knowledge reflect merely the propensity for an individual to possess policy-specific knowledge on a wide range of issues, then the actual social distribution of policy-specific knowledge may help explain why information effects are large in some collective preferences but small in others. Recent research has demonstrated that policy-specific knowledge can influence attitudes independently from general political knowledge (Gilens 2001; McGraw and Pinney 1990) . Using a simulation method similar to the one employed here, Gilens found that a lack of policy-specific knowledge generated unique information effects between two and six times as large as the information effects produced by low levels of general political knowledge. This finding raises the possibility that the size of information effects produced by low levels of general political knowledge might be moderated by the social distribution of policy-specific knowledge, which sometimes is spread much more evenly across social strata than general political knowledge. Possessing policy-specific knowledge should tend to reduce the size of information effects in relevant survey questions even among people who have lower levels of general political knowledge. The Gilens study provides some suggestive evidence on this point. Gilens found that half of Americans knew in 1988 that the unemployment rate had declined over the previous eight years, and information effects produced by general political knowledge were almost nonexistent in a question about whether government should increase spending to help the unemployed. Only one in five respondents knew that federal efforts to protect the environment had declined over that time period, and fairly large information effects were found in collective preferences about the need for additional spending on environmental protection.

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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controlling for information effects imputes to all respondents not knowledge itself but rather the
attitude structures of knowledgeable people.
<B>
The Social Distribution of Policy-Specific Knowledge
Information effects might arise not from a lack of general political knowledge per se, but rather
from a lack of policy-specific knowledge relevant to the particular question at hand. If levels of
general political knowledge reflect merely the propensity for an individual to possess policy-specific
knowledge on a wide range of issues, then the actual social distribution of policy-specific knowledge
may help explain why information effects are large in some collective preferences but small in
others. Recent research has demonstrated that policy-specific knowledge can influence attitudes
independently from general political knowledge
(Gilens 2001; McGraw and Pinney 1990)
. Using a
simulation method similar to the one employed here, Gilens found that a lack of policy-specific
knowledge generated unique information effects between two and six times as large as the
information effects produced by low levels of general political knowledge.
This finding raises the possibility that the size of information effects produced by low levels of
general political knowledge might be moderated by the social distribution of policy-specific
knowledge, which sometimes is spread much more evenly across social strata than general political
knowledge. Possessing policy-specific knowledge should tend to reduce the size of information
effects in relevant survey questions even among people who have lower levels of general political
knowledge. The Gilens study provides some suggestive evidence on this point. Gilens found that half
of Americans knew in 1988 that the unemployment rate had declined over the previous eight years,
and information effects produced by general political knowledge were almost nonexistent in a
question about whether government should increase spending to help the unemployed. Only one in
five respondents knew that federal efforts to protect the environment had declined over that time
period, and fairly large information effects were found in collective preferences about the need for
additional spending on environmental protection.


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