Opinion polls, information effects, and political equality: Exploring ideological biases in collective opinion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Much of the recent literature about political knowledge and public opinion concludes that the low information levels of the American public are benign to the workings of democracy. However, this study finds that the information resources possessed by rival publics are critical determinants of how loudly their preferences are voiced in policy‐oriented survey questions. Ill‐informed respondents tend to select “no opinion” more frequently and, when they provide responses, answer more randomly than the well informed. Because of this, numerically small publics who have large proportions of well‐informed constituents can significantly influence the frequency marginals of information‐dependent questions. As informed persons also tend to be affluent, respondents from higher income groups can act as “informed minorities” that cause opinion marginals to overstate the magnitude of economically conservative opinion in a population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalPolitical Communication
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996
Externally publishedYes

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opinion poll
equality
trend
level of information
public opinion
minority
determinants
democracy
income
cause
human being
resources
Group

Keywords

  • Bias
  • Collective rationality
  • Media polls
  • Opinion surveys
  • Political knowledge
  • Public opinion
  • Representation
  • Social choice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science

Cite this

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abstract = "Much of the recent literature about political knowledge and public opinion concludes that the low information levels of the American public are benign to the workings of democracy. However, this study finds that the information resources possessed by rival publics are critical determinants of how loudly their preferences are voiced in policy‐oriented survey questions. Ill‐informed respondents tend to select “no opinion” more frequently and, when they provide responses, answer more randomly than the well informed. Because of this, numerically small publics who have large proportions of well‐informed constituents can significantly influence the frequency marginals of information‐dependent questions. As informed persons also tend to be affluent, respondents from higher income groups can act as “informed minorities” that cause opinion marginals to overstate the magnitude of economically conservative opinion in a population.",
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AB - Much of the recent literature about political knowledge and public opinion concludes that the low information levels of the American public are benign to the workings of democracy. However, this study finds that the information resources possessed by rival publics are critical determinants of how loudly their preferences are voiced in policy‐oriented survey questions. Ill‐informed respondents tend to select “no opinion” more frequently and, when they provide responses, answer more randomly than the well informed. Because of this, numerically small publics who have large proportions of well‐informed constituents can significantly influence the frequency marginals of information‐dependent questions. As informed persons also tend to be affluent, respondents from higher income groups can act as “informed minorities” that cause opinion marginals to overstate the magnitude of economically conservative opinion in a population.

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