International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

Reason-Giving in Political Decision-Making

Dana Griffin, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Research Area: Political decision making

Representative democracy places a premium on having decision-makers who can coherently explain their thoughts and actions to others.  However, a wide body of research in psychology and political science suggests that people often have a difficult time identifying and elaborating the reasons behind their beliefs, attitudes, and choices.  In principle, elected officials should be more adept at this task than citizens, because representatives are often called upon to explain their political views and choices to others in ways that most citizens are not.  When it comes to politics, are elected officials more adept at explaining why they think and act the way they do?  To answer this question, we analyze data from a computerized information board experiment administered to elected officials and citizens in two U.S. states (n = 269).  In this study, subjects used information to solve two hypothetical policy problems and then were asked to explain their decisions to an audience with unknown views.  Content analysis of participants’ responses to four open-ended questions about their decision-making shows wide variation in the coherence and complexity with which people explain themselves to others.  In addition filling a major gap in the literature of elite/ mass decision-making, this research offers an unique methodology for better understanding the psychology of political choice.