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

Author

Listed:
  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Lupia, Arthur & Prior, Markus, 2005. "What Citizens Know Depends on How You Ask Them: Political Knowledge and Political Learning Skills," MPRA Paper 103, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 25 Sep 2006.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:103
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    File URL: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/103/1/MPRA_paper_103.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
    2. repec:cup:apsrev:v:89:y:1995:i:02:p:309-326_09 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Lupia, Arthur, 2006. "How Elitism Undermines the Study of Voter Competence," MPRA Paper 349, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Blair, Edward & Burton, Scot, 1987. " Cognitive Processes Used by Survey Respondents to Answer Behavioral Frequency Questions," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 280-288, September.
    5. repec:cup:apsrev:v:83:y:1989:i:02:p:399-419_08 is not listed on IDEAS
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    More about this item

    Keywords

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

    JEL classification:

    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household
    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General

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