An Analysis of Information Items on the 1990 and 1991 NES Surveys

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Empirical studies addressing questions of political information and/or sophistication are common and varied. Some assume the importance of an informed citizenry, and attempt to gauge the level, distribution, and correlates of political knowledge in the U.S. public (Hyman and Sheatsley, 1947; Kriesberg, 1949; Metzner, 1949; Berelson, et al., 1954; Hero, 1959; Withey, 1962; Erskine, 1962; 1963a; 1963b; 1963c; Patchen, 1964; D. Smith, 1970; Glenn, 1972; Keeter and Zukin, 1983; Sigelman and Yanarella, 1986; Bennett, 1988; 1989; Entman, 1989; Zeigler and Haltom, 1989; Delli Carpini and Keeter, 1989; 1992). Others begin to actually specify and test the assumption that an informed citizen is a "better" citizen. This approach conceptualizes political knowledge as part of the broader constructs of political "sophistication" (Converse, 1964; Neuman, 1986; Luskin, 1987; Smith, 1989), "awareness" (Zaner, 1990), "expertise" (Lodge, McGraw, and Stroh, 1989; McGraw and Pinney, 1990; Krosnick, 1990), "information" (MacKuen, 1984; Sniderman, Glaser, and Griffin, 1990), or "enlightened preferences" (Bartels, 1990). Finally, rather than lamenting the relatively low levels of political sophistication, or attempting to demonstrate the importance of individual-level knowledge, some researchers focus on the rationality of the citizens' "decision" not to seek out political information; on the ability of citizens to reach rational, effective decisions without much political information; and on the ways in which relatively uninformed individual decisions can result in surprisingly stable, "informed" collective decisions (Graber, 1988; Aldrich, Sullivan, and Borgida, 1989; Rahn, et al., 1990; Carmines and Kuklinski, 1990; Stimson, 1990; Page and Shapiro, 1991).

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NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Michael X. Delli Carpini was affiliated with Columbia University. Currently January 2008, he is a faculty member of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
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