Money, Time, and Political Knowledge: Distinguishing Quick Recall and Political Learning Skills

American Journal of Political Science (Impact Factor: 2.76). 12/2007; 52(1):169 - 183. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00306.x

ABSTRACT Surveys provide widely cited measures of political knowledge. Do seemingly arbitrary features of survey interviews affect their validity? Our answer comes from experiments embedded in a representative survey of over 1200 Americans. A control group was asked political knowledge questions in a typical survey context. Treatment groups received the questions in altered contexts. One group received a monetary incentive for answering the questions correctly. Another was given extra time. The treatments increase the number of correct answers by 11–24%. Our findings imply that conventional knowledge measures confound respondents' recall of political facts with variation in their motivation to exert effort during survey interviews. Our work also suggests that existing measures fail to capture relevant political search skills and, hence, provide unreliable assessments of what many citizens know when they make political decisions. As a result, existing knowledge measures likely underestimate people's capacities for informed decision making.

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    ABSTRACT: Traditionally political knowledge was regarded as an important potential outcome for civic education efforts. Most of the currently available research, however, tends to focus on non-cognitive goals, despite the fact that studies repeatedly have shown that political knowledge is an important resource for enlightened and engaged citizenship. In this article, we investigate whether civic education efforts at school contribute to political knowledge levels. The analysis is based on the Belgian Political Panel Survey, a 2year panel study among 2,988 Belgian late adolescents. The analysis shows that experiences with group projects at school contribute significantly to political knowledge levels 2years later on. Furthermore, we can observe an interaction effect as those who are already most knowledgeable about politics, gain most from these group projects. Classes about politics, on the other hand, did not have an effect on knowledge levels. In the discussion, it is argued that civic education can have strong cognitive effects, but that these effects are not always related to classical civic education efforts and we discussion the policy implication for civic education. KeywordsCivic education–Political knowledge–Panel research–Belgium–Adolescents
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    ABSTRACT: In general, citizens use a number of cognitive tools to efficiently navigate the uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity of the political world. Metaphor and narrative are not simply linguistic flourishes or persuasive devices in political rhetoric; they are effective reasoning tools in civic cognition. Both devices provide constructs for categorizing and making sense of incoming information and experiences in the political world, satisfying our need for cognitive coherence. Despite similarity in the cognitive functions of metaphor and narrative, few attempts have been made to integrate the two concepts into a unified cognitive model. This chapter will review why metaphor and narrative are important for civic reasoning and cognition, how they are similar, and how they are likely to be related. The discussion will highlight the cognitive nature of language, the need for an integrated model of civic cognition that includes both metaphor and narrative, prospects for the more explicit incorporation of metaphor and narrative in civic education, and the inextricability of political cognition from its social context. Because they shape political identities, frame political issues, and offer the potential to enhance civic tolerance and reflection, metaphor and narrative feature prominently in civic cognition and merit further investigation.
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    ABSTRACT: In this study, I use a computerized experiment to test whether elected officials differ from everyday citizens in how they use information to make political choices. Ninety state and local level elected officials took part in the study, as did 179 adults from the general population. I tracked participants’ information use as they attempted to solve two hypothetical public policy problems. The data show that while elected officials differ from everyday citizens in their demographics and in the consistency of their political views, these groups did not differ systematically in their depth of information search, their proclivity to compare choice alternatives, or their depth of information processing. These findings held across two different public policy scenarios, controlling for differences in political knowledge, education, and elective experience. In addition to opening a new methodological frontier for the study of political elites, these results accelerate an ongoing debate between Burkeian paternalists and advocates of a more populist democracy.
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