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Fall Into the (Knowledge) Gap: An Examination of the Political Knowledge of Adolescents in Co-Educational and Single Sex Environments
Unformatted Document Text:  We use Delli Carpini and Keeter’s (1996) definition of political knowledge as “the range of factual information about politics that is stored in long-term memory” (10). Since democratic theory provides no explicit measure of the amount of required knowledge or the cognitive skills needed by citizens in order to make the system work (Neuman 1986), the concept of political knowledge has been used interchangeably with a number of other constructs such as political awareness and political sophistication. The end result has been conceptual blurring. Delli Carpini and Keeter’s definition places emphasis on information, and thus it allows political knowledge to be distinguished from other political attitudes, opinions, values and beliefs. The focus on factual information sets political knowledge apart insofar as it may be subjected to reasonable tests of correctness that other political attitudes may not (11). This definition also allows us to distinguish information that has been discarded with short-term memory from that which has been stored and cognized. This is important because, “it allows us to focus on information that citizens bring to their interpretation of the political world, rather than solely on the information that is provided as new issues emerge and events unfold” (Delli Carpini and Keeter, pg 11). Items assessing political knowledge must be direct, neutral, and factual, and they must actually measure what is in people’s heads. This information, in turn, becomes critical for intellectual engagement with politics (Zaller 1992 21). Our indicator of political knowledge is based on answers to four short, open- ended questions: Who is the governor of the state of Michigan? Name a country where there was a World War II concentration camp. What is the length of a U.S. Senator’s term? How many justices sit on the Supreme Court? These are standard questions in a battery of political knowledge items (Jennings and Niemi 1974; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1989; Jennings 1996). Although more typically, studies use a ten-item knowledge scale, we were constrained by the space limitations of the survey instrument. 2 The four-item index has a .52 Cronbach’s Alpha, lower than the . 2 Two additional knowledge questions, one asking whether Jimmy Carter is a Democrat or a Republican and the other asking what country Nelson Mandela lead, were dropped from analysis 9

Authors: Prough, Elizabeth. and Herring, Mary.
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We use Delli Carpini and Keeter’s (1996) definition of political knowledge as
“the range of factual information about politics that is stored in long-term memory” (10).
Since democratic theory provides no explicit measure of the amount of required
knowledge or the cognitive skills needed by citizens in order to make the system work
(Neuman 1986), the concept of political knowledge has been used interchangeably with a
number of other constructs such as political awareness and political sophistication. The
end result has been conceptual blurring. Delli Carpini and Keeter’s definition places
emphasis on information, and thus it allows political knowledge to be distinguished from
other political attitudes, opinions, values and beliefs. The focus on factual information
sets political knowledge apart insofar as it may be subjected to reasonable tests of
correctness that other political attitudes may not (11).
This definition also allows us to distinguish information that has been discarded
with short-term memory from that which has been stored and cognized. This is important
because, “it allows us to focus on information that citizens bring to their interpretation of
the political world, rather than solely on the information that is provided as new issues
emerge and events unfold” (Delli Carpini and Keeter, pg 11). Items assessing political
knowledge must be direct, neutral, and factual, and they must actually measure what is in
people’s heads. This information, in turn, becomes critical for intellectual engagement
with politics (Zaller 1992 21).
Our indicator of political knowledge is based on answers to four short, open-
ended questions:
Who is the governor of the state of Michigan?
Name a country where there was a World War II concentration camp.
What is the length of a U.S. Senator’s term?
How many justices sit on the Supreme Court?
These are standard questions in a battery of political knowledge items (Jennings and
Niemi 1974; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1989; Jennings 1996). Although more typically,
studies use a ten-item knowledge scale, we were constrained by the space limitations of
the survey instrument.
The four-item index has a .52 Cronbach’s Alpha, lower than the .
2
Two additional knowledge questions, one asking whether Jimmy Carter is a Democrat or a
Republican and the other asking what country Nelson Mandela lead, were dropped from analysis
9


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