The political environment and citizen competence

James H. Kuklinski, Paul J. Quirk, Jennifer Jerit, Robert F. Rich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 healthcare 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)410-424
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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