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Explaining Information Effects in Collective Preferences
Unformatted Document Text:  The American National Election Studies asked about gay rights in 1988, 1992, and 1996 with the question “Do you favor or oppose laws to protect homosexuals against job discrimination?” Support for such laws in surveyed opinion rose steadily from 54% in 1988 to 60% in 1992 and 64% in 1996. This question never had large information effects in collective opinion—levels of “fully informed” support for gay rights protections ran 57% in 1988 and 65% in both 1992 and 1996—but the dynamics of information effects for this question tracked changes in the news agenda quite closely. This trend is particularly evident in the opinions of respondents from the lowest knowledge quartiles for each of these years, a group of particular interest because its members are less likely than other people to follow the news (Price and Zaller 1993; Zaller 1992a) . Figure 2 shows that the group opinions of the least knowledgeable quartile had modest information effects in 1988 and 1996, but a 16-point gap between surveyed and simulated opinions in 1992. INSERT FIGURE 2 ABOUT HERE The most plausible explanation for the emergence and disappearance of this large information effect was the sudden increase in news attention to gay rights in 1992. Because they are chronically inattentive to the news, less knowledgeable people are slower than others to update their preferences in light of new information (Zaller 1992a) . When news attention shifts to focus on a particular topic, the rapidity of this change can create a temporary disjuncture between the opinions of the least and most informed citizens. A large percentage-point difference between actual and “fully informed” opinion thus may indicate the presence of a “knowledge gap” (Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien 1970) caused by uneven rates of information diffusion among various segments of society. In the case of discrimination against gays, the apparent impact of knowledge gaps is visible not only across time but also across different types of opinions registered at a single point in time. In addition to its question about workplace discrimination, the 1992 ANES also asked about military service (“Do you think homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the United States Armed Forces or don't you think so?”) and adoption rights (“Do you think gay or lesbian couples, in other words, homosexual couples, should be legally permitted to adopt children?”). Of the 51 gay rights stories in

Authors: Althaus, Scott.
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The American National Election Studies asked about gay rights in 1988, 1992, and 1996 with
the question “Do you favor or oppose laws to protect homosexuals against job discrimination?”
Support for such laws in surveyed opinion rose steadily from 54% in 1988 to 60% in 1992 and 64%
in 1996. This question never had large information effects in collective opinion—levels of “fully
informed” support for gay rights protections ran 57% in 1988 and 65% in both 1992 and 1996—but
the dynamics of information effects for this question tracked changes in the news agenda quite
closely. This trend is particularly evident in the opinions of respondents from the lowest knowledge
quartiles for each of these years, a group of particular interest because its members are less likely
than other people to follow the news
(Price and Zaller 1993; Zaller 1992a)
. Figure 2 shows that the
group opinions of the least knowledgeable quartile had modest information effects in 1988 and 1996,
but a 16-point gap between surveyed and simulated opinions in 1992.
INSERT FIGURE 2 ABOUT HERE
The most plausible explanation for the emergence and disappearance of this large information
effect was the sudden increase in news attention to gay rights in 1992. Because they are chronically
inattentive to the news, less knowledgeable people are slower than others to update their preferences
in light of new information
(Zaller 1992a)
. When news attention shifts to focus on a particular topic,
the rapidity of this change can create a temporary disjuncture between the opinions of the least and
most informed citizens. A large percentage-point difference between actual and “fully informed”
opinion thus may indicate the presence of a “knowledge gap”
(Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien 1970)
caused by uneven rates of information diffusion among various segments of society.
In the case of discrimination against gays, the apparent impact of knowledge gaps is visible not
only across time but also across different types of opinions registered at a single point in time. In
addition to its question about workplace discrimination, the 1992 ANES also asked about military
service (“Do you think homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the United States Armed Forces
or don't you think so?”) and adoption rights (“Do you think gay or lesbian couples, in other words,
homosexual couples, should be legally permitted to adopt children?”). Of the 51 gay rights stories in


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