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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  Comparing the results of surveyed opinion to the simulated opinions of a hypothetical “fully informed” public reveals that surveyed opinion is influenced in significant ways by the low levels and uneven social distribution of political knowledge (Althaus 1998, 2001, 2003; Bartels 1996; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Duch, Palmer, and Anderson 2000; Gilens 2001; Sturgis 2001). But the growing numbers of studies documenting these relationships have left us with something of a mystery. Each individual making up the collective has a fixed amount of political knowledge at the time they express their opinions in surveys. If the size of information effects were merely determined by these fixed levels of political knowledge, such effects should be approximately the same size across questions and within individuals. Yet they are not. Information effects are larger for some topics, smaller for others. They also have consistent patterns of directional impact for certain types of questions. When controlling for information asymmetries, collective opinion become less approving of presidents and Congress, less hawkish and isolationist on foreign policy, less conservative on social and equal rights issues, and more conservative on governance, environmental, and morality issues (Althaus 2003; see also Althaus 1998; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Gilens 2001). If levels of general political knowledge are constant within individuals, then variance in the size and direction of information effects must arise from something else besides knowledge, or something that works in conjunction with knowledge, or something that conditions the impact of knowledge. Some of this variance may be attributed directly to the topical domains of different questions, which cover issues more and less familiar to the typical survey respondent. Some may arise from the survey instrument itself, if question wording and order effects tend to bias the opinions of less knowledgeable respondents to a greater degree than those of more knowledgeable opinion givers. Differences in the size of gaps between surveyed and simulated opinion may also be rooted less in the amount of information people carry around with them than in the ways that different types of people use the limited amount of information they do have. It is possible that the ill informed are better able to employ heuristic shortcuts or other forms of “low information rationality” (Popkin

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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Comparing the results of surveyed opinion to the simulated opinions of a hypothetical “fully
informed” public reveals that surveyed opinion is influenced in significant ways by the low levels
and uneven social distribution of political knowledge (Althaus 1998, 2001, 2003; Bartels 1996;
Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Duch, Palmer, and Anderson 2000; Gilens 2001; Sturgis 2001).
But the growing numbers of studies documenting these relationships have left us with something
of a mystery. Each individual making up the collective has a fixed amount of political knowledge
at the time they express their opinions in surveys. If the size of information effects were merely
determined by these fixed levels of political knowledge, such effects should be approximately the
same size across questions and within individuals. Yet they are not. Information effects are larger
for some topics, smaller for others. They also have consistent patterns of directional impact for
certain types of questions. When controlling for information asymmetries, collective opinion
become less approving of presidents and Congress, less hawkish and isolationist on foreign
policy, less conservative on social and equal rights issues, and more conservative on governance,
environmental, and morality issues (Althaus 2003; see also Althaus 1998; Delli Carpini and
Keeter 1996; Gilens 2001). If levels of general political knowledge are constant within
individuals, then variance in the size and direction of information effects must arise from
something else besides knowledge, or something that works in conjunction with knowledge, or
something that conditions the impact of knowledge.
Some of this variance may be attributed directly to the topical domains of different questions,
which cover issues more and less familiar to the typical survey respondent. Some may arise from the
survey instrument itself, if question wording and order effects tend to bias the opinions of less
knowledgeable respondents to a greater degree than those of more knowledgeable opinion givers.
Differences in the size of gaps between surveyed and simulated opinion may also be rooted less in
the amount of information people carry around with them than in the ways that different types of
people use the limited amount of information they do have. It is possible that the ill informed are
better able to employ heuristic shortcuts or other forms of “low information rationality”
(Popkin


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