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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  happens, politically attentive citizens will tend to evaluate politicians, policies, and institutions in light of the relevant issues and frames given prominent attention in news discourse. The reverse may also be true: the difference in opinion between knowledge quartiles might reflect sources of political information used more heavily by the ill informed. Biases in the attitudes of ill-informed people could stem from the local opinion environments of those not directly exposed to elite communications. For instance, attitudes and voting decisions tend to be mediated by the norms and values esteemed by an individual’s immediate social environment (Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954; Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet 1948; Noelle-Neumann 1984) . These micro- level social environments can have a substantial impact on macro-level opinion. Politically knowledgeable citizens are more likely to engage in political discussions than other people, a process that exposes them to a range of socially-communicated opinions and information which may influence their own political preferences (Bennett, Flickinger, and Rhine 2000; Huckfeldt, Beck et al. 1995; MacKuen 1990) . Because ill-informed people are less likely to engage in political conversations (Eliasoph 1998) , they can be insulated against the macro-level flows of information that might challenge their opinions. In this perspective, some of the differences between actual and “fully informed” collective opinion can be seen as resulting from biases in the information environments of the ill informed. Subtle distortions in the “marketplace of ideas” should contribute to differences between well- and ill-informed opinion, but it is unclear whether these differences arise from biases in the political information used by knowledgeable citizens to form their preferences, or from biases in the political information available to ill-informed respondents. From either genesis, the upshot is that differences between well- and ill-informed opinion are, in the final analysis, products of history and culture rather than of psychology, arising from changes in the definitions of social problems, the social contexts in which those problems appear, the evolution of political discourse about those problems, and the manner in which they are confronted or ignored by political institutions. 24 24 For a similar perspective focusing on the utility of heuristics, see Sniderman 2000 and Jackman and Sniderman 2002. For reviews of the literature detailing the importance of history and culture to the formation of public opinion, see Kinder 1998; Kinder and Sears 1985; Mayer 1993; Page and Shapiro 1992.

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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happens, politically attentive citizens will tend to evaluate politicians, policies, and institutions in
light of the relevant issues and frames given prominent attention in news discourse.
The reverse may also be true: the difference in opinion between knowledge quartiles might
reflect sources of political information used more heavily by the ill informed. Biases in the attitudes
of ill-informed people could stem from the local opinion environments of those not directly exposed
to elite communications. For instance, attitudes and voting decisions tend to be mediated by the
norms and values esteemed by an individual’s immediate social environment
(Berelson, Lazarsfeld,
and McPhee 1954; Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet 1948; Noelle-Neumann 1984)
. These micro-
level social environments can have a substantial impact on macro-level opinion. Politically
knowledgeable citizens are more likely to engage in political discussions than other people, a process
that exposes them to a range of socially-communicated opinions and information which may
influence their own political preferences
(Bennett, Flickinger, and Rhine 2000; Huckfeldt, Beck et
al. 1995; MacKuen 1990)
. Because ill-informed people are less likely to engage in political
conversations
(Eliasoph 1998)
, they can be insulated against the macro-level flows of information
that might challenge their opinions. In this perspective, some of the differences between actual and
“fully informed” collective opinion can be seen as resulting from biases in the information
environments of the ill informed.
Subtle distortions in the “marketplace of ideas” should contribute to differences between well-
and ill-informed opinion, but it is unclear whether these differences arise from biases in the political
information used by knowledgeable citizens to form their preferences, or from biases in the political
information available to ill-informed respondents. From either genesis, the upshot is that differences
between well- and ill-informed opinion are, in the final analysis, products of history and culture
rather than of psychology, arising from changes in the definitions of social problems, the social
contexts in which those problems appear, the evolution of political discourse about those problems,
and the manner in which they are confronted or ignored by political institutions.
24
24 For a similar perspective focusing on the utility of heuristics, see Sniderman 2000 and Jackman and
Sniderman 2002. For reviews of the literature detailing the importance of history and culture to the formation of
public opinion, see Kinder 1998; Kinder and Sears 1985; Mayer 1993; Page and Shapiro 1992.


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