While we're stuck with only the abstract, apparently cognitive mobilization plays a part in the study. I mention this for a couple of reasons. First, it's one of the more popular search terms that allows people to find this blog. Second, it's one of my first ever areas of research interest. And third, I just like the way it sounds, as if a bunch of smart people are getting mobilized.
So to keep with the cognitive mobilization theme, I point to this study which takes that concept to examine why informed citizens may be skeptical of referenda. Political knowledge -- the measure of being "informed" -- plays an obvious role in the research. Five factual questions about Canadian politics (yes, it's a study from Canada) are used as a measure of political knowledge and they seem straightforward.
But what I really like is the measure of public incompetence -- essentially tapping into the belief that people suck when it comes to politics. Below are their two questions:
- “The problem with democracy is that most people don't really know what's best for them.”
- “Most people have enough sense to tell whether the government is doing a good job.”
This is a neat idea, a global measure not of internal efficacy, which is whether or not you are capable of participating or understanding politics, but rather a measure of public competence. I like it. A lot. There are some interesting theoretical possibilities here and it smacks of the third-person effect. Note that I'm not getting into the guts of what they found in this study because, frankly, I'm less interested in that than this concept. I will point out that political knowledge is negatively associated with support for referenda, which probably has to do with really smart people not trusting other people to vote on stuff. But ... hold on, say the authors.
Building from this initial statement, the central objective of the paper has been to uncover explanations for this information effect in support for the use of referenda. To do so we identified three possible explanations with firm grounding in the literature: 1) the incompetent public explanation, 2) the confidence in government explanation, and 3) the support for minority rights explanation. Our analyses provide support for the last two explanations, but not the first.So much for the incompetent public concept, I suppose. And I had such high hopes for it.