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The Political Environment and Citizen Competence

James H. Kuklinski, Paul J. Quirk, Jennifer Jerit and Robert F. Rich
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 410-424
DOI: 10.2307/2669349
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2669349
Page Count: 15
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The Political Environment and Citizen Competence
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Abstract

The political-heuristics school has credited the political environment with providing easily used informational crutches that enable even poorly informed citizens to make competent political judgments. We develop a more general approach to the environment, arguing that it can either enhance or fail to enhance political judgment and that it shapes performance through the interaction of two factors: information and motivation. Using survey experiments that test citizens' ability to make tradeoffs among competing goals for health-care reform, we find that performance depends heavily on environmental conditions. A combination of general information with increased motivation to act responsibly improves aggregate performance. An extremely favorable informational environment not only enhances performance, but it even eliminates the effects of individual differences in education and political sophistication. The analysis points toward reforming structures that shape the political environment as the most plausible route to improved democratic governance.

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