Learning about change: information, motivation, and political perception Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Parker-Stephen, Evan
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Political Science
  • Does the American mass public, broadly speaking, meet its normatively prescribed duty to monitor and react to changes in the political-economic world? Do specific segments of the mass public pose an obstacle to this \\monitorial model" of political competence, which is itself central to democratic accountability? This study explores these questions with three separate studies. It will be shown that citizen learning and inference rest on two crucial factors: real-world information and psychological motivation. Taken together, the three studies demonstrate how the relative importance of information and motivation changes as a function of both individual characteristics, including cognitive capability and partisanship, and the contextual characteristics of the political environment, especially political campaigns. Attention is given to differential learning across several socioeconomic and political partisan classes to assess the breadth of understanding about politically consequential real-world change. It will turn out that, on the issues that affect policy and election outcomes, politically relevant information is often distributed fairly evenly across the mass public. The prototypically ill-informed, which is to say, the people who have relatively low levels of education, income, and so forth, present a less serious obstacle to the monitorial model than do political partisans, whose perceptions are affected by their motives to preserve consistency with their partisan attitudes and beliefs. However, even though these partisans' perceptions are affected by such \\motivated reasoning," their temporal-perception patterns reflect responsiveness to political-economic reality nonetheless. In broad perspective, this study demonstrates that knowledge of changing objective conditions, not static facts, is an instructive barometer for gauging citizen performance. Contrasted against conventional academic wisdom, the monitorial perspective produces markedly different, indeed more optimistic, conclusions about the political-information competency of the American mass public.
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  • In Copyright
  • Stimson, James
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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