Munich Personal RePEc Archive

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

Lupia, Arthur and Prior, Markus (2005): What Citizens Know Depends on How You Ask Them: Political Knowledge and Political Learning Skills.

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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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