Friday, February 22, 2008

Five of What We Know

I was reading a chapter yesterday written by Michael X. Delli Carpini, among the top guys in the field on what people know. "The literature on political knowledge provides fiarly compelling evidence for five characterizations regarding what Americans know," he writes. They are:
  1. The average Americans is poorly informed but not uninformed about public affairs.
  2. Knowledge remains relatively unchanged for the last 50 years.
  3. Americans are slightly less informed than those in other countries.
  4. The idea of "average knowledge" masks important differences among groups
  5. Knowledge is associated with a lot of the stuff of democracy and citizenship, such as voting.

The chapter appears in Communicating Politics: Engaging the Public in Democratic Life. You can find a freebie online version of the chapter here.

I've talked about most of these, but of interest to me at the moment is #5 and the consequences of political knowledge. In fact I'm working through an idea on consequences from a related variable called wishful thinking, which has to do with estimating an election outcome. More on that some other time.

Instead, I'm also working at the moment on how people answer different kinds of political knowledge questions. So far I can say this -- data suck. They get in the way of a good theory. But with another work I think I can safely say that the way we ask certain kinds of questions can get very different answers, depending on the kind of people you ask. This fits #4 above. Still in analysis mode, so don't have any handy-dandy results to share.

And none of this is anywhere as much fun as titular colonicity. Sorry.

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