“Just the Facts, Ma'am”: Political Facts and Public Opinion

James H. Kuklinski, Paul J. Quirk, David W. Schwieder, Robert F. Rich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An important dimension of the future of fact is the status of political facts in research on public opinion. Analyzing the public's factual knowledge about public policy is central to addressing citizen competence yet more problematic than scholars have acknowledged. To show this, the authors first summarize a study of theirs that uses typical measures of citizens' information. In a survey of Illinois citizens, they measured factual perceptions about welfare policy. They found that citizens are not only uninformed about welfare but often misinformed—confident in erroneous perceptions. Such misinformation apparently has significant effects on attitudes toward welfare. The authors then consider some conceptual difficulties in research on citizens' information about policy. If the purpose is to ascertain how much information citizens possess, then the researcher must stipulate the relevant facts about an area of policy. But political facts are in large part politically determined, and the researcher often cannot identify precisely what the true and relevant facts are. Finally, the authors suggest a research approach in which citizens, in effect, choose the relevant facts themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
JournalThe Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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