International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

Some Considerations on the Measurement of Political Knowledge

Pavlos Vasilopoulos, University of Athens

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: University of Athens
Research Area: Political decision making

Levels of political knowledge have been proven particularly useful for understanding citizens’ political decision making. More than forty years of research of the mass public’s levels of political knowledge, carried out mostly in the United States, have repeatedly described an ignorant and inattentive public that lacks even the most basic political information. These surveys have cultivated the belief that this pattern of ignorance will appear in all western democracies regardless of the characteristics of each political system and culture.  In turn, researchers of political sophistication often choose knowledge questionnaire items according to their degree of difficulty and differentiation, adjusting the distribution of item responses so as to fit the minimal knowledge hypothesis. The proposed paper argues that this method attaches little importance on the theoretical considerations on what the public should know.  I apply a theoretically driven measurement of political knowledge in the Greek public. By focusing on Barber’s proposed criteria (what the government is and does) to measure political knowledge, and without presupposing a particular knowledge distribution, I present empirical evidence that show the minimal knowledge hypothesis does not fit all Western political cultures. In specific, the Greek public appears to be well informed over heterogeneous dimensions of politics and deviates from the pattern of political ignorance. Based on these findings I argue for a reconsideration of data driven selection of political knowledge items in settings where the concept is measured for the first time.