Elite Influence on Public Opinion in an Informed Electorate
American Political Science Review, Vol. 105, No. 3, pp. 496-515, August 2011
20 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2012 Last revised: 17 Feb 2012
Date Written: April 2, 2011
An enduring concern about democracies is that citizens conform too readily to the policy views of elites in their own parties, even to the point of ignoring other information about the policies in question. This article presents two experiments that suggest an important condition under which the concern may not hold. People are rarely exposed to even modest descriptions of policies, but when they are, their attitudes seem to be affected at least as much by those descriptions as by cues from party elites. The experiments also include measures of the extent to which people think about policy, and contrary to many accounts, they suggest that party cues do not inhibit such thinking. This is not cause for unbridled optimism about citizens’ ability to make good decisions, but it is reason to be more sanguine about their ability to use information about policy when they have it.
Keywords: public opinion, elite, political psychology, partisanship, party cues, party labels, party endorsements, cues, elite cues, source cues, heuristics, biasses, health care, Obamacare, Medicaid, need for cognition, policy information, political information, political behavior
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