Means, Motive, & Opportunity in Becoming Informed About Politics: A Deliberative Field Experiment with Members of Congress and Their Constituents
42 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2008
Date Written: November 14, 2008
Survey research on political knowledge typically measures citizens' ability to recall political information on the spot, and in these surveys most citizens appear appallingly ignorant. Deliberative theorists emphasize, however, that citizens' capacity to become informed when given a motive and opportunity to participate in politics is equally important for democratic accountability. We assess this capacity among citizens using two deliberative field experiments. In the summer of 2006 we conducted a field experiment in which we recruited twelve current members of the U.S. Congress to discuss immigration policy with randomly drawn small groups of their constituents. In the summer of 2008, we conducted a similar experiment using a large group of constituents interacting with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan on detainee policy. Using an innovative statistical method to identify average treatment effects from field experiments, we find that constituents demonstrate a strong capacity to become informed in response to this opportunity. The primary mechanism for knowledge gains is subjects' increased attention to policy outside the context of the experiment. This capacity to become informed seems to be spread widely throughout the population, in that it is unrelated to prior political knowledge.
Keywords: Political Knowledge, Deliberative Experiments, US Congress, Treatment Effect Estimation
JEL Classification: C93, C11, C13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation