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Can Gestures of Goodwill from the State Condition Attitudes in Post-Authoritarian Democracies?: A Field Experiment
Unformatted Document Text:  5 In the short run, public opinion in Mexico may be more fluid and responsive to current events (Hiskey and Bowler 2005; McCann and Lawson 2003). Perhaps even boilerplate letters sent from an official to a constituent—correspondence that is commonplace in established democracies—can change public attitudes (Fenno 1978; Mayhew 1974). In this paper, I explore how such a letter might affect three core pillars of public opinion: levels of interest in politics, a sense of efficacy, and trust in the political system. If a simple pledge in the form of a letter delivered through the mail can affect these attitudes, we need to ask how this might be possible. One plausible hypothesis is that a letter from the government can reduce certain costs associated with being well informed about public affairs. For instance, recipients may be better able to associate the state government’s logo (included in the letter) with billboards around public works projects, and thus be better able to attribute credit to the state. Additionally, the letter can serve as a reminder to Mexicans that there are political relationships based on responsibilities in which democratically elected officials have an obligation to act in the public’s best interest and to provide a certain minimal level of service. A letter can also function as a cue to bolster the perception that government officials are hard at work in pursuit of the public interest. As Fenno (1978) notes in the U.S. context, such messages are part of the millions of pieces of mail that members of Congress send to voters. On the other hand, in a post-authoritarian context like Mexico, citizens might be particularly sensitive to political manipulation. Given the rampant cynicism about policymakers, any gestures by the state could lower the assessment of democratic attitudes and work to depoliticize the electorate. Along these lines, Diaz-Cayeros et al.

Authors: Nishikawa, Katsuo.
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5
In the short run, public opinion in Mexico may be more fluid and responsive to
current events (Hiskey and Bowler 2005; McCann and Lawson 2003). Perhaps even
boilerplate letters sent from an official to a constituent—correspondence that is
commonplace in established democracies—can change public attitudes (Fenno 1978;
Mayhew 1974). In this paper, I explore how such a letter might affect three core pillars
of public opinion: levels of interest in politics, a sense of efficacy, and trust in the
political system.
If a simple pledge in the form of a letter delivered through the mail can affect
these attitudes, we need to ask how this might be possible. One plausible hypothesis is
that a letter from the government can reduce certain costs associated with being well
informed about public affairs. For instance, recipients may be better able to associate the
state government’s logo (included in the letter) with billboards around public works
projects, and thus be better able to attribute credit to the state. Additionally, the letter can
serve as a reminder to Mexicans that there are political relationships based on
responsibilities in which democratically elected officials have an obligation to act in the
public’s best interest and to provide a certain minimal level of service. A letter can also
function as a cue to bolster the perception that government officials are hard at work in
pursuit of the public interest. As Fenno (1978) notes in the U.S. context, such messages
are part of the millions of pieces of mail that members of Congress send to voters.
On the other hand, in a post-authoritarian context like Mexico, citizens might be
particularly sensitive to political manipulation. Given the rampant cynicism about
policymakers, any gestures by the state could lower the assessment of democratic
attitudes and work to depoliticize the electorate. Along these lines, Diaz-Cayeros et al.


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