knowledge items once again - pls ignore previous posting
Gabor Toka
Posted 15/6/2008 01:07 (#67)
Subject: knowledge items once again - pls ignore previous posting

New user

Posts: 2

We propose the inclusion of two or three political knowledge items in the 2009 voter survey. As it will be briefly indicated below, considerable evidence exists about the multiplicity of the ways in which knowledge items can contribute to a better understanding of voting behavior. Some evidence also exists about the ways they can improve our understanding of second-order elections as well as the level and determinants of support for and opposition to European integration. They can also be extremely useful in linking micro-data from the voter study to macro-data from the media content analysis, the manifesto study, candidate, expert and MEP surveys, and to macro-economic performance indicators. The administration of such items is standard practice in many election studies, do not pose special problems, requires very little interview time, and considerable previous experience is available about the reliability, scalability, and dimensionality of knowledge items. Their inclusion in a cross-national voter study opens the door to new ways of analyzing the impact and determinants of election outcomes.

Justification of the proposal

1. The previous evidence about the multiplicity of the ways in which knowledge scales can contribute to a better understanding of voting behavior concern mostly interactions between citizens’ political information level and their reliance on various shortcuts to make electoral choice in complex situations. Prior research further suggests that the same people may vote rather differently if they became better informed (Bartels 1996; Fishkin and Luskin 1999; Lau and Redlawsk 1997; Sekhon 2004), and use different criteria for decision making (Sniderman et al. 1991). Better informed citizens are most likely to anchor their vote choices in their issue preferences, ideological orientation and performance evaluations (Andersen et al. 2005; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996, 256-8; Gomez and Wilson 2001; Goren 1997; Hobolt 2007; Jacoby 2006; Lau and Redlawsk 2001, 2006; Lau et al. 2008; Lupia 1994; Luskin 2003; Sniderman et al. 1991; Sturgis and Tilley 2004). Hence it is plausible that greater political knowledge gives more influence over elected office-holders (but cf. Lupia 1994; Lupia and McCubbins 1998; McKelvey and Ordeshook 1990 for some counter-arguments that make the above findings non-trivial). The balance of the evidence would suggest that properly specified models of voting behavior always need to take into account the heterogeneity of the electorate in terms of information level. However, previous EES voter studies – with the exception of the 1994 survey – included only indirect proxies of information level like level of education and interest in politics, which, according to previous studies, do not provide adequate substitutes of knowledge scales in reliably capturing individual variation in citizens’ political sophistication (cf. e.g. Luskin 1987, 1990, 2003; Smith 1989).
2. It seems particularly relevant to include information level in the European election study series. Sufficient prior evidence exists to suggest that the level and determinants of support for and opposition to European integration are also related to citizens’ political knowledge level (cf. Hobolt 2007; Gosselin and Henjak 2008). Whether European elections operate as second-order elections as a result of direct citizens’ responses to the fact that no executive office is directly seen at stake in these elections or due to a less intense campaigning by political parties has important implications for what kind of institutional reforms can reduce the second-order character of European elections, and the two alternative explanations can be best tested by models involving citizens’ political knowledge level among the independent variables (Toka 2007).
3. Since citizens can be expected to respond differently to the flow of campaign information and to have different understandings of party positions depending on their knowledge level, measures of the latter can be extremely useful in linking micro-data from the voter study to macro-data from the media content analysis (cf. Zaller 1992), the manifesto study (van der Brug 1997), candidate, expert and MEP surveys, and to macro-economic performance indicators (Tilley et al. 2005). Controlling for variation in citizens’ knowledge is also an essential variable in testing different explanations of differences and similarities between the political attitudes of citizens and their representatives. Therefore the inclusion of a knowledge battery in the voter study is particularly commendable for an election study that collects data from all these various sources and attempts to link them in innovative and theoretically sound ways.
4. The administration of such items has become standard practice in many election studies, do not pose special difficulties, requires very little interview time, and considerable previous experience is available about the reliability, scalability, and dimensionality of knowledge items (cf. e.g. Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Zaller 1985). There is clear evidence that the best available measures, in spite of previous concerns expressed by Mondak 1999, 2001; Mondak and Anderson 2004; Mondak and Canache 2004; Mondak and Creel Davis 2001), are provided by relatively simple, quickly administered, pre-coded open-ended quiz questions that encourage the expression of ‘DK’ responses and are easily administered over the phone provide (Sturgis et al. 2008; Luskin and Bullock 2006). While the CSES surveys do include such items, they are not sufficiently standardized across countries and elections (cf. Kroh 2002). The EES survey would be in a good position to include cross-nationally standardized items relying on the considerable body of evidence available on the Euro-wide variation in the functioning of different knowledge items in previous Eurobarometers as well as a 17-country survey conducted in the context of the IntUne FP6 project in March 2007.
5. The inclusion of a knowledge battery in a cross-national voter study opens the door to new ways of analyzing the impact and determinants of election outcomes. As Bartels (1996), Blais et al (forthcoming), Fournier (2006), Sekhon (2004), and Toka (2004) demonstrated, considerable variation exists across elections and countries in the extent to which otherwise identical citizens vote in different ways depending on their information level. As a result, some elections produce generally better informed outcomes than others. Understanding the causes and impact of such variation is an important task for contemporary political science, with important normative implications for institutional design and the analysis of democratic government (cf. Lau and Redlawsk 2008; Toka 2008).


Previous research found that individual political information items often work in a highly interchangeable manner (see especially Zaller 1985, 1986). Therefore the exact wording of the individual items included in the study is of no major relevance for the study of the above questions. The attached Excel file shows a sample of items previously used in Eurobarometer and EES surveys. We believe that pre-coded open-ended questions on, say, who president of the European Commission is, how many member states there are in the EU, and what percentage of the EU budget is spent on the common agricultural policy would probably be best suited for the nature of the EES and its specific analytical focus on European elections. Such a battery would involve different tasks (name recognition versus handling numerical data) at different levels of difficulty. While we do not expect that levels of political knowledge can be readily compared with their help across-countries, their combination into a single is likely to provide a valid measure of within-country variation within each member state. The studies listed in the Excel file as well as the March 2007 IntUne survey data available to us provide some evidence about the likely distribution of responses to such items. While the distributional properties of a four-point scale may not be entirely satisfactory for some analytical purposes, Toka (2008) suggest a readily available technique to derive a nearly normally distributed knowledge scale from citizens’ left-right self-placement of the major parties – the data for which is likely to remain available from the EES voter study – once a valid, though probably less usefully distributed knowledge scale is available in the same individual level data set. Therefore we believe that the proposed instrument can be very useful in a large number of possible applications while at the same time the necessary additional data can be produced via the inclusion in the voter study of a very small number of simple items – not dissimilar to those that were already included in the 1994 EES survey. While we have no space here to outline detailed study designs for the many possible applications using the knowledge items among their independent variables, the references provide multiple examples for these.

Gabor Toka, Central European University
Sara Hobolt, University of Oxford


Andersen, Robert, Anthony Heath, and James Tilley. "Political Knowledge and Enlightened Preferences: Party Choice through the Electoral Cycle." British Journal of Political Science 35, no. 2 (2005): 285-302.
Bartels, Larry M. "Uninformed Votes: Information Effects in Presidential Elections." American Journal of Political Science 40, no. 1 (1996): 194-230.
van der Brug, Wouter. Where's the Party? Voters' Perceptions of Party Positions. Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1997.
Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Scott Keeter. What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.
Fishkin, James S., and Robert C. Luskin. "Bringing Deliberation to the Democratic Dialogue." In The Poll with a Human Face: The National Issues Convention Experiment in Political Communication, edited by Maxwell E. McCombs and Amy Reynolds, 3-38. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999.
Fournier, Patrick. In Capturing Campaign Effects, edited by Henry E. Brady and Richard Johnston. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006.
Gomez, Brad T., and J. Matthew Wilson. "Political Sophistication and Economic Voting in the American Electorate: A Theory of Heterogeneous Electorates." American Journal of Political Science 45, no. 4 (2001): 899-914.
Goren, Paul. "Political Expertise and Issue Voting in Presidential Elections." Political Research Quarterly 50, no. 2 (1997): 387-412.
Gosselin, Tania, and Andrija Henjak. "Information and Media System Effects on Support for the European Union in Post-Communist Candidate Countries." Paper presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Political Science Association, Vancouver, BC, 4-6 June 2008.
Hobolt, Sara Binzer. "Taking Cues on Europe? Voter Competence and Party Endorsements in Referendums on European Integration." European Journal of Political Research 46, no. 2 (2007): 151-82.
Jacoby, William G. "Value Choices and American Public Opinion." American Journal of Political Science 50, no. 3 (2006): 706-23.
Kroh, Martin. "The Uncertainty of Turnout: Information and Political Participation in the Eu." Paper presented at the Joint Sessions and Workshops of the European Consortium for Political Research, Turin, Italy, 22-27 March 2002.
Lau, Richard R., David J. Andersen, and David P. Redlawsk. "An Exploration of Correct Voting in Recent U.S. Presidential Elections " American Journal of Political Science 52, no. 2 (2008): 395–411.
Lau, Richard R., and David P. Redlawsk. "Advantages and Disadvantages of Cognitive Heuristics in Political Decision Making." American Journal of Political Science 45 (2001): 951-71.
———. How Voters Decide: Information Processing During Election Campaigns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
———. "Voting Correctly." American Political Science Review 91 (1997): 585-98.
Lupia, Arthur. "Shortcuts Versus Encyclopedias: Information and Voting Behavior in California Insurance Reform Elections." American Political Science Review 88 (1994): 63-76.
Lupia, Arthur, and Mathew D. McCubbins. The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Luskin, Robert C. "Explaining Political Sophistication." Political Behavior 12, no. 4 (1990): 331-61.
———. "The Heavenly Public: What Would a Fully Informed Citizenry Be Like?" In Electoral Democracy, edited by Michael B. MacKuen and George Rabinowitz, 238-61. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003.
———. "Measuring Political Sophistication." American Journal of Political Science 31 (1987): 856-99.
Luskin, Robert C., and John G. Bullock. "Taking "Don't Know" For an Answer: Dk Responses and the Measurement of Political Knowledge." Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin, 2006.
McKelvey, Richard D., and Peter C. Ordeshook. "Information and Elections: Retrospective Voting and Rational Expectations." In Information and Democratic Processes, edited by John A. Ferejohn and James H. Kuklinski, 281-312. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Mondak, Jeffery J. "Developing Valid Knowledge Scales." American Journal of Political Science 45, no. 1 (2001): 224-38.
———. "Reconsidering the Measurement of Political Knowledge." Political Analysis 8 (1999): 57-82.
Mondak, Jeffery J., and Mary R. Anderson. "The Knowledge Gap: A Reexamination of Gender-Based Differences in Political Knowledge." The Journal of Politics 66, no. 2 (2004): 492–512.
Mondak, Jeffery J., and Damarys Canache. "Knowledge Variables in Cross-National Social Inquiry." Social Science Quarterly 85, no. 3 (2004): 539-58.
Mondak, Jeffery J., and Belinda Creel Davis. "Asked and Answered: Knowledge Levels When We Won't Take 'Don't Know' for an Answer." Political Behavior 23, no. 3 (2001): 199-224.
Sekhon, Jasjeet. The Varying Role of Voter Information across Democratic Societies [APSA Political Methodology Section working paper]. 2004 [cited 18 January 2005 2005]. Available from
Smith, Eric R. A. N. The Unchanging American Voter. Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press, 1989.
Sniderman, Paul M., James M. Glaser, and Robert Griffin. "Information and Electoral Choice." In Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology, edited by Paul M. Sniderman, Richard A. Brody and Phillip E. Tetlock, 164-78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Sturgis, Patrick, Nick Allum, and Patten Smith. "An Experiment on the Measurement of Political Knowledge in Surveys." Public Opinion Quarterly 72, no. 1 (2008): 90-102.
Sturgis, Patrick, and James Tilley. "Political Sophistication and Issue Voting: An Intra-Individual Level Analysis." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (EPOP) sub-group of the Political Studies Association, Oxford, UK, 10-12 September 2004.
Tilley, James R., Tessa Bold, and John Garry. "Perceptions and Economic Reality - Disentangling the Causes and Effects of Economic Perceptions Upon Voting Behaviour in the 2004 European Elections." Paper presented at the European Election Study 2004 conference, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, 20-23 May 2005.
Toka, Gabor. "Citizen Information, Election Outcomes and Good Governance." Electoral Studies 27, no. 1 (2008): 31-44.
Tóka, Gábor. "Can Voters Be Equal? A Cross-National Analysis. Part 2." The Review of Sociology 10, no. 1 (2004): 47-65.
———. "Information Effects on Vote Choices in European Elections." In European Elections after Eastern Enlargement, edited by Michael Marsh, Slava Mikhaylov and Hermann Schmitt, 141-79. Mannheim: MZES, 2007.
Zaller, John. "Analysis of Information Items in the 1985 Nes Pilot Study." Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan, 1986.
———. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
———. "Proposal for the Measurement of Political Information." Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan, 1985.

Attachments Information items in EB & EES.xls (33KB - 3 downloads)
Top of the page Bottom of the page
Posted 16/7/2008 16:57 (#100 - in reply to #67)
Subject: RE: knowledge items once again - pls ignore previous posting

Posts: 26
Location: University of Oxford, UK
Dear Gabor,

Thank you for submitting this proposal to the Open Forum. The PIREDEU Steering Committee met at the end of June to evaluate each of the proposals. We assessed them on the basis of whether they met the following criteria:

* An explicit argument about why the proposed question/coding category merited inclusion in one or more of the PIREDEU data components.

* An explicit argument about the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the question/coding category.

* An explicit case for how the question/coding category facilitates integration and linking of several data components. The PIREDEU Steering Committee preferred proposals that allowed for conceptual integration across the five data components (i.e. voter survey, candidate survey, media study, manifestos and contextual data).

* An explicit consideration of how the proposed question/coding category linked with questions/coding categories in past data collection efforts.

The PIREDEU Steering Committee favoured proposals that ensured over time and across instrument comparability. Moreover, given that the voter and candidate surveys can only contain a limited number of question items, priority was given to proposals with succinct question formats.

On this basis we ranked each question in the proposal as follows:

(1) The proposed item will be included in data collection instrument
(2) High priority proposal that will be included if space and time constraints permit
(3) Proposal can only be included if additional funding is secured
(4) Proposed item is not a priority

The item(s) from your proposal received the following ranking(s):

Instrument: Voter Survey

Two or three factual political knowledge items (suggestions have been provided)
Ranking: 1

Rationale: This items will be included in the voter survey. The question wording will determined by a subcomittee of the voter survey work package.

Thank you again for your participation in this process. We hope that you will continue to use the Open Forum to comment on the questionnaires/codebook that will be posted online on the Forum in the autumn.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Franklin
Chair of the PIREDEU Steering Committee

Sara Hobolt
Deputy Chair of the PIREDEU Steering Committee
Top of the page Bottom of the page