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What Citizens Know Depends on How You Ask Them: Political Knowledge and Political Learning Skills

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  • Lupia, Arthur
  • Prior, Markus

Abstract

Surveys provide widely-cited measures of political knowledge. Do unusual aspects of survey interviews reduce their relevance? To address this question, we embedded a set of experiments in a representative survey of over 1200 Americans. A control group answered political knowledge questions in a typical survey context. Respondents in treatment groups received the same questions in different contexts. One group received a monetary incentive for answering questions correctly. Others were given more time to answer the questions. The treatments increase the number of correct answers by 11-24 percent. Our findings imply that conventional knowledge measures confound respondents’ recall of political information and their motivation to engage the survey question. The measures also provide unreliable assessments of respondents’ abilities to access information that they have stored in places other than their immediately available memories. As a result, existing knowledge measures likely underestimate peoples’ capacities for informed decision making.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 103.

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Date of creation: 2005
Date of revision: 25 Sep 2006
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:103

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Keywords: political knowledge; economic knowledge; experimental economics; incentives; survey;

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  1. Lupia, Arthur, 2006. "How Elitism Undermines the Study of Voter Competence," MPRA Paper 349, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Camerer, Colin F. & Hogarth, Robin M., 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Working Papers, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences 1059, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  3. Blair, Edward & Burton, Scot, 1987. " Cognitive Processes Used by Survey Respondents to Answer Behavioral Frequency Questions," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(2), pages 280-88, September.
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