Mapping the Boundaries of Elite Cues: How Elites Shape Mass Opinion Across International Issues
30 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
When and how do elite messages shape mass opinion on international issues? A largely divided literature has focused on two components of elite cues — information and partisan attribution — as rival alternatives. We argue instead for an interplay of influence that depends on the characteristics of mass opinion itself: distance from expert opinion and the degree of partisan polarization. Where the divide in partisan opinion is limited, information effects should outweigh attribution effects, but as issues areas appear increasingly divided on party lines, intake of information should be increasingly limited by attribution to particular parties, even to the exclusion of non-attributed (generic) expert opinion. In a series of survey experiments, we seek to map the boundaries of this interplay across a range of economic and security issue areas, including the rise of China, climate change, international institutions, and the use of military force. We find strong support for our hypothesis. At one extreme, all messages, even those from opposition experts, are effective in changing opinion; at the other, only partisan information matters, to the exclusion of generic messages. We also find suggestive evidence that in the limiting case of extremely polarized issue areas, outparty cues can outweigh inparty cues and drive respondents away from policy options they would be expected to support.
Keywords: public opinion, foreign policy, elites, partisanship
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