Does familiarity breed contempt? the impact of information on mass attitudes toward congress

Jeffery J. Mondak, Edward G. Carmines, Robert Huckfeldt, Dona Gene Mitchell, Scot Schraufnagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two features of citizen response to Congress can be taken as grounds for concern. First, Americans know relatively little about Congress, and especially about congressional procedures and policy output. Second, Congress typically emerges as the least respected political institution. Although these matters are troubling when viewed individually, more disturbing is the dilemma posed when knowledge and attitudes toward Congress are viewed in tandem. It appears that citizens who know Congress the best like Congress the least. Consequently, a sophisticated polity and a well-respected legislature seem fundamentally incompatible. This article seeks to resolve this dilemma, contending that there is nothing about knowledge per se that leads citizens to view Congress unfavorably. Rather, differences in knowledge levels alter the considerations citizens bring to bear when evaluating Congress, with the best-informed individuals constructing judgments on the basis of the most relevant Congress-specific criteria while less knowledgeable citizens employ readily available but more peripheral criteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-48
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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