Political Behavior

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 331–361 | Cite as

Explaining political sophistication

  • Robert C. Luskin


Debates over the political sophistication of mass publics smolder on. The more fundamental question, however, is why people become as politically sophisticated or unsophisticated as they do. This paper develops a nonlinear simultaneous equation model to weigh explanations of three general sorts: the politicalinformation to which people are exposed, theirability to assimilate and organize such information, and theirmotivation to do so. The estimates suggest that interest and intelligence, representing motivation and ability, have major effects, but that education and media exposure, the big informational variables, do not. I consider the reasons and sketch some implications for the sophistication of mass publics, for the study of sophistication and other “variables of extent,” and for democratic theory.


Equation Model Major Effect Fundamental Question Simultaneous Equation Media Exposure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aitchison, John, and Brown, J. A. C. (1957).The Lognormal Distribution: With Special Reference to Its Uses in Economics. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Andrain, Charles F. (1971).Children and Civic Awareness: A Study in Political Education. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill.Google Scholar
  3. Asher, Herbert B. (1988).Presidential Elections and American Politics: Voters, Candidates, and Campaigns Since 1952, 4th ed. Homewood, IL: Dorsey.Google Scholar
  4. Baron, J. (1982). Personality and intelligence. In Robert J. Sternberg (ed.),Handbook of Human Intelligence. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Beck, Paul Allen (1977). The role of agents in political socialization. In Stanley Allen Renshon (ed.),Handbook of Political Socialization. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bolland, John M., Kuklinski, James H., and Luskin, Robert C. (1987). Where's the Schema? Schema Theory in Political Psychology. Presented at the annual meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology.Google Scholar
  7. Bousfield, Weston A. (1953). The occurrence of clustering in recall of randomly arranged.Journal of General Psychology 49: 229–240.Google Scholar
  8. Box, George E. P., and Cox, David R. (1964). An analysis of transformations.Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. series B, 26: 211–243.Google Scholar
  9. Bransford, John D., and Johnson, Marcia K. (1972). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall.Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 11: 717–721.Google Scholar
  10. Brody, Richard A., and Sniderman, Paul M. (1977). From life space to polling place: The relevance of personal concerns for voting behavior.British Journal of Political Science 7: 337–360.Google Scholar
  11. Buschke, Herman (1976). Learning is organized by chunking.Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 15: 313–324.Google Scholar
  12. Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald E. (1960).The American Voter. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., and Rodgers, Willard L. (1976).The Quality of American Life: Perceptions, Evaluations, and Satisfactions. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Campione, Joseph C., Brown, Ann L., and Bryant, Nancy R. (1985). Individual differences in learning and memory. In Robert J. Sternberg (ed.),Human Abilities: An Information Processing Approach. New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  15. Carroll, John B., and Maxwell, Scott E. (1979). Individual differences in cognitive abilities. In Mark R. Rosenzweig and Lyman W. Porter (eds.),Annual Review of Psychology. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.Google Scholar
  16. Cassel, Carol A. (1984). Issues in measurement: The ‘levels of conceptualization’ index of ideological sophistication.American Journal of Political Science 28: 418–429.Google Scholar
  17. Chaffee, Steven H., Jackson-Beeck, Marilyn, Duvall, Jean, and Wilson, Donna (1977). Mass communication in political socialization. In Stanley Allen Renshon (ed.),Handbook of Political Socialization. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  18. Chaiken, Shelly (180). Heuristic versus systematic information processing and the use of source versus cur messages in persuasion.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39: 752–766.Google Scholar
  19. Chaiken, Shelly, and Baldwin, Mark W. (1981). Affective cognitive consistency and the effect of salient behavioral information on the self-perception of attitudes.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 41: 1–12.Google Scholar
  20. Chiesi, Harry L., Spilich, George J., and Voss, James F. (1979). Acquisition of domain-related information in relation to high and low domain knowledge.Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 18: 257–273.Google Scholar
  21. Chong, Dennis, McClosky, Herbert, and Zaller, John R. (1983). Patterns of support for democratic and capitalist values.British Journal of Political Science 13: 401–440.Google Scholar
  22. Clarke, Peter, and Fredin, Eric (1978). Newspapers, television, and political reasoning.Public Opinion Quarterly 42: 143–160.Google Scholar
  23. Converse, Philipe E. (1964). The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In David E. Apter (ed.),Ideology and Discontent. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  24. Converse, Philipe E. (1974). Some priority variables in comparative electoral research. In Richard Rose (ed.),Electoral Behavior: A Comparative Handbook. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  25. Converse, Philipe E. (1975). Public opinion and voting behavior. In Fred I Greenstein and Nelson W. Polsby (eds.),Handbook of Political Science, vol. 4. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  26. Crewe, Ivor (1981). Electoral participation. In David Butler, Howard R. Penniman, and Austin Ranney (eds.),Democracy at the Polls: A Comparative Study of Competitive National Elections. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.Google Scholar
  27. Dahl, Robert A. (1984).Modern Political Analysis, 4th ed.) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  28. Dooling, D. James, and Lachman, Roy (1971). Effects of comprehension on retention of prose.Journal of Experimental Psychology 88: 216–222.Google Scholar
  29. Duncan, Otis Dudley (1968). Ability and achievement.Eugenics Quarterly 15: 1–11.Google Scholar
  30. Field, John Osgood, and Anderson, Ronald E. (1969). Ideology in the public's conceptualization of the 1964 election.Public Opinion Quarterly 33: 389–398.Google Scholar
  31. Fiske, Susan T., Kinder, Donald R., and Larter, W. Michael (1983). The novice and the expert: Knowledge-based transmission strategies in political cognition.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 19: 381–400.Google Scholar
  32. Fiske, Susan T., and Taylor, Shelley E. (1984).Social Cognition. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  33. Gibson, James L., and Bingham, Richard D. (1985).Civil Liberties and Nazis: The Skokie Free Speech Controversy. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  34. Gibson, James L., and Wenzel, James P. (1988). Intelligence, Cognitive Sophistication, and Political Tolerance. Presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.Google Scholar
  35. Glenn, Norval D., and Grimes, Michael (1968). Aging, voting, and political interest.American Sociological Review 33: 563–575.Google Scholar
  36. Goldberger, Arthur S. (1964).Econometric Theory. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  37. Goldberger, Arthur S. (1968).Topics in Regression Analysis. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  38. Goldberger, Arthur S., Nagar, A. L., and Odeh, H. S. (1961). The covariance matrices of reduced from coefficients and of forecasts for a structural economic model.Econometrica 29: 556–573.Google Scholar
  39. Graber, Doris A. (1984).Processing the News: How People Tame the Information Tide. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  40. Hagner, Paul R., and Pierce, John C. (1982). Correlative characteristics of levels of conceptualization in the American public: 1956–1976.Journal of Politics 44: 779–807.Google Scholar
  41. Hamill, Ruth C., and Lodge, Milton (1986). Cognitive consequences of political sophistication. In Richard R. Lau and Davis O. Sears (eds.),Political Cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  42. Hamill, Ruth C., Lodge, Milton, and Blake, Frederick (1985). The breadth, depth, and utility of class, partisan, and ideological schemata.American Journal of Political Science 29: 850–870.Google Scholar
  43. Harvey, S. K., and Harvey, T. G. (1970). Adolescent political outlooks: The effects of intelligence as an independent variable.Midwest Journal of political science 14: 565–594.Google Scholar
  44. Inglehart, Ronald (1979). Political action: The impact of values, cognitive level and social background. In Samuel Barnes and Max Kaase (eds.),Political Action: Mass Participation in Five Western Democracies. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Iyengar, Shanto, and Kinder, Donald R. (1987).News That Matters: Television and American Public Opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  46. Iyengar, Shanto, Peters, Mark D., and Kinder, Donald R. (1982). Experimental demonstrations of the not-so-minimal consequences of television news programs.American Political Science Review 76: 848–858.Google Scholar
  47. Jennings M. Kent, and Niemi, Richard G. (1974).The Political Character of Adolescence: The Influence of Families and Schools. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Jennings, M., and Niemi, Richard G. (1981).Generations and Politics: A Panel Study of Young Adults and Their Parents. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Kent, K. E., and Rush, Ramona R. (1976). How communication behavior of older persons affects their public affairs knowledge.Journalism Quarterly 53: 40–46.Google Scholar
  50. Kinder, Donald R. (1983). Diversity and complexity in American public opinion. In Ada W. Finifter (ed.),Political Science: The State of the Discipline. Washington, DC: American Political Science Association.Google Scholar
  51. Klingemann, Hans D. (1979a). The background of ideological conceptualization. In Samuel H. Barnes and Max Kaase (eds.),Political Action: Mass Participation in Western Democracies. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  52. Klingemann, Hans D. (1979b). Ideological conceptualization and political action. In Samuel H. Barnes and Max Kaase (eds.),Political Action: Mass Participation in Five Western Democracies. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. Knight, Kathleen (1985). Ideology in the 1980 election: Ideological sophistication does matter.Journal of Politics 47: 828–853.Google Scholar
  54. Langton, Kenneth P., and Jennings, M. Kent (1968). Political socialization and the high school civics curriculum in the United States.American Political Science Review 62: 852–867.Google Scholar
  55. Larkin, Jill, McDermott, John, Simon, Dorothea P., and Simon, Herbert A. (1980). Expert and novice performance in solving physics problems.Science 208: 1335–1342.Google Scholar
  56. Luskin, Robert C. (1987a). Explaining Political Sophistication. Presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.Google Scholar
  57. Luskin, Robert C. (1987b). Measuring political sophistication.American Journal of Political Science 31: 856–899.Google Scholar
  58. Luskin, Robert C. (Forthcoming). Abusus non tollit usum: Bounded truthfulness in statistics.American Journal of Political Science.Google Scholar
  59. Markus, Gregory B., and Converse, Philip E. (1979). A dynamic simultaneous equation model of electoral choice.American Political Science Review 73: 1055–1070.Google Scholar
  60. McClosky, Herbert (1964). Consensus and ideology in American politics.American Political Science Review 58: 371–382.Google Scholar
  61. McClosky, Herbert, and Zaller, John R. (1984).The American Ethos: Public Attitudes Toward Capitalism and Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  62. McClure, Robert D., and Patterson, Thomas E. (1976). Print vs. network news.Journal of Communication 26: 18–22.Google Scholar
  63. Merelman, Richard (1971).Political Socialization and Educational Climates: A Study of Two School Districts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  64. Merelman, Richard (1981). Communication.American Political Science Review 74: 319–332.Google Scholar
  65. Miller, Arthur H., and Miller, Warren E. (1976). Ideology in the 1972 election: Myth or reality—a rejoinder.American Political Science Review 70: 832–849.Google Scholar
  66. Miller, Arthur H., Miller, Warren E., Raine, Alden S., and Brown, Thad A. (1976). A majority party in disarray: Policy polarization in the 1972 election.American Political Science Review 70: 753–778.Google Scholar
  67. Miller, Warren E., and Levitin, Theresa E. (1976).Leadership and Change: The New Politics and the American Electorate. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop.Google Scholar
  68. Neuman, W. Russell (1986).The Paradox of Mass Politics: Knowledge and Opinion in the American Electorate. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Neuman, W. Russell (1981). Differentiation and integration: Two dimensions of political thinking.American Journal of Sociology 86: 1236–1268.Google Scholar
  70. Neuman, W. Russell (1976). Pattern of recall among television news viewers.Public Opinion Quarterly 40: 115–123.Google Scholar
  71. Nie, Norman H., Verba, Sidney, and Petrocik, John R. (1976).The Changing American Voter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.Google Scholar
  72. Page, Benjamin I., and Jones, Calvin C. (1979). Reciprocal effects of party loyalties, policy preferences, and the vote.American Political Science Review 73: 1071–1089.Google Scholar
  73. Patterson, Thomas E. (1980).The Mass Media Election: How Americans Choose Their President. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  74. Patterson, Thomas E., and McClure, Robert P. (1976).The Unseeing Eye: The Myth of Television Power in National Politics. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.Google Scholar
  75. Petty, Richard E., and Cacioppo, John T. (1979). Issue involvement can increase or decrease persuasion by enhancing message-relevant cognitive responses.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37: 1915–1926.Google Scholar
  76. Petty, Richard E., and Cacioppo, John T. (1984). The effects of involvement on responses to argument quantity and quality: Central and peripheral routes to persuasion.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 46: 69–81.Google Scholar
  77. Pierce, John C., and Hagner, Paul R. (1982). Conceptualization and party identification: 1956–1976.American Journal of Political Science 26: 377–387.Google Scholar
  78. Popkin, Samuel, Gorman, John W., Phillips, Charles, and Smith, Jeffrey A. (1976). Comment: What have you done for me lately? Toward an investment theory of voting.American Political Science Review 70: 779–805.Google Scholar
  79. Powell, G. Bingham, Jr. (1982).Contemporary Democracies: Participation, Stability, and Violence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Powell, G. Bingham, Jr. (1986). American voter turnout in comparative perspective.American Political Science Review 80: 17–44.Google Scholar
  81. Renshon, Stanley Allen (1977). Assumptive frameworks in political socialization theory. In Stanley Allen Renshon (ed.),Handbook of Political Socialization. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  82. Robinson, John P. (1972). Mass communication and information diffusion. In F. Gerald Kline and Philip J. Techenor (eds.),Current Perspectives in Mass Communication Research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  83. Robinson, John P. (1977).How Americans Use Time: A Social-Psychological Analysis of Everyday Behavior. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  84. Rosenstone, Steven J., and Wolfinger, Raymond E. (1978). The effect of registration laws on voter turnout.American Political Science Review 72: 22–45.Google Scholar
  85. Schroder, Harold, Driver, Michael, and Streufert, Siegfried (1967).Human Information Processing. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.Google Scholar
  86. Scott, William A. (1963). Conceptualizing and measuring structural properties of cognition. In O. J. Harvey (ed.),Motivation and Social Interaction: Cognitive Determinants. New York: Ronald Press.Google Scholar
  87. Smith, Eric R. A. N. (1980). Levels of conceptualization: False measures of ideological sophistication.American Political Science Review 74: 685–696.Google Scholar
  88. Smith, Eric R. A. N. (1981). Communication.American Political Science Review 75: 152–154.Google Scholar
  89. Sniderman, Paul (1975).Personality and Democratic Politics. Berkeley: University of California.Google Scholar
  90. Stephenson, William (1967).The Play Theory of Mass Communication. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  91. Stevenson, Robert L., and White, Kathryn P. (1980). The cumulative audience of network television news.Journalism Quarterly 57: 477–481.Google Scholar
  92. Tetlock, Philip E. (1983). Accountability and complexity of thought.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 46: 365–375.Google Scholar
  93. Tetlock, Philip E. (1984). Cognitive style and political belief systems in the British House of Commons.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 46: 365–375.Google Scholar
  94. Thompson, Dennis F. (1970).The Democratic Citizen: Social Science and Democratic Theory in the Twentieth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  95. Torney, Judith V., Oppenheim, A. N., and Farnen, Russell F. (1975).Civic Awareness in Ten Countries. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  96. Tulving, Endel (1961). The effect of alphabetical subjective organization on memorizing unrelated words.Canadian Journal of Psychology 16: 185–191.Google Scholar
  97. Verba, Sidney, and Nie, Norman H. (1972).Participation in America: Political Democracy and Social Equality. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  98. White, Elliot S. (1969). Intelligence, individual differences, and learning: An approach to political socialization.British Journal of Sociology 20: 50–66.Google Scholar
  99. Wolfinger, Raymond, and Rosenstone, Steven J. (1980).Who Votes? New Haven, CT: Yale.Google Scholar
  100. Wyckoff, Mikel (1980). Belief system constraint and policy voting: A test of the unidimensional consistency model.Political Behavior 2: 115–146.Google Scholar
  101. Zajonc, Robert B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monograph Supplement 9 (2, Part 2): 2–27.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert C. Luskin
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Texas at AustinAustin

Personalised recommendations