, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 167-192

Public opinion and heuristic processing of source cues

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Abstract

If the American citizen is capable of constructing reliable political judgments without engaging in extensive cognitive deliberation, then criticism that public opinion is largely vacuous in character may overstate the implications of a politically inattentive citizenry. Heuristic processing, reliance on simple rules of judgment, provides a cognitive mechanism that may enable citizens to advance informed yet efficient issue appraisals. More specifically, application of heuristic processing to source cues—references to prominent political leaders—can allow individuals to extend evaluations of those leaders to the policies and issues with which they are associated. In this paper, discussion of heuristic principles of judgment facilitates specification of the expected relationship between source cues and two component processes of individual-level public opinion: opinion holding and opinion direction. Separate quasi-experimental analyses yield evidence consistently supportive of the heuristic perspective.