Mapping the Boundaries of Elite Cues: How Elites Shape Mass Opinion Across International Issues
47 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 12, 2014
When and how do elite messages shape mass opinion on international issues? Debate remains over whether the informational or partisan components of elite cues dominate. To help reconcile the relative influence of these mechanisms, we argue that their influence varies systematically across issues, depending on the baseline distribution of mass opinion on the issues themselves. Two characteristics of underlying opinion are crucial: the share of those not aligned with expert opinion, and the degree of partisan polarization. Where polarization is limited, information effects should dominate, but where issues are polarized, information intake should be limited by partisan attribution. We test these hypotheses using nine survey experiments across a range of issues, including the rise of China, climate change, international institutions, and the use of force. At one extreme, all messages, even those endorsed by generic or opposition experts, can shift opinion; at the other, only partisan-attributed messages matter.
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