The Myth of the Level Playing Field: Knowledge, Affect, and Repetition in Public Debate

Missouri Law Review, Vol 75, p. 143, 2010

37 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2007 Last revised: 10 Oct 2010

See all articles by Jeremy N. Sheff

Jeremy N. Sheff

St. John's University School of Law

Date Written: March 10, 2010


The industrialization of the channels and scale of communication has led some well-meaning reformers to try to regulate the ability of powerful private actors to leverage economic inequality into political inequality, particularly in the area of campaign finance. Such reform efforts are ostensibly intended to further the deliberative democratic ideal of rational, informed public decisionmaking by preventing well-funded private interests from improperly influencing democratic debate and, by extension, political outcomes. This Article examines empirical findings in political science, psychology, and marketing and argues that, in the context of contemporary American society, the normative principles of deliberative democracy and formal equality operate at cross-purposes. Equalizing measures in campaign finance regulation are extremely likely to increase the divergence between actual political decisionmaking and a deliberative, informed, rational ideal by increasing the incentives for speakers to mislead and manipulate voters or by entrenching preexisting majorities. This Article argues that, rather than focusing on equality of financing, reformers would do better to think about how to ameliorate the source of non-optimal political decisionmaking: the (economically rational) political ignorance, non-rational decisionmaking, and civic disengagement of the average citizen.

Keywords: Campaign Finance, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Election Law, Heuristics, Deliberative Democracy, Democratic Theory, Repetition, Affect

JEL Classification: D72

Suggested Citation

Sheff, Jeremy N., The Myth of the Level Playing Field: Knowledge, Affect, and Repetition in Public Debate (March 10, 2010). Missouri Law Review, Vol 75, p. 143, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Jeremy N. Sheff (Contact Author)

St. John's University School of Law ( email )

8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439
United States
718-990-5504 (Phone)

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