Political Information, Political Involvement, and Reliance on Ideology in Political Evaluation

Abstract

Many studies have focused on the relationship between political information and the use of ideology. Here, we argue that two “evaluative motivations”—general investment of the self in politics and extremity of partisanship—serve as moderators of this relationship. Specifically, we use data from two recent national surveys to test whether the possession of information is more strongly associated with a tendency to approach politics in an ideological fashion among individuals high in both types of evaluative motivation. Results supported this hypothesis, revealing that information was more strongly associated with ideological constraint and with a tendency to give polarized evaluations of conservatives and liberals among those who highly invest the self in politics and those with more extreme partisanship. As such, this study suggests that information and involvement interact to shape the use of ideology.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It may be hard to imagine a person who knows about politics but who does not feel personally invested in politics. Nevertheless, we argue that many citizens acquire substantial information simply by being well-educated, interacting with politically informed individuals, or paying attention to the news. Despite not exerting any interested effort on their part, people can learn about politics by fulfilling general requirements in high school and college. Delli Carpini and Keeter (1996) did indeed find that people who were more educated also tended to know more about politics, controlling for other factors (including involvement). Receiving a quality education does not necessarily mean that people will also become engaged or interested in politics. People may remain uninterested in politics for a variety of reasons, including simply finding it boring or being turned off by the partisan bickering. Without any sort of motivation to think about political issues in an ideological fashion, we argue that political information will not translate as strongly into the use of ideology in political judgment.

  2. 2.

    Luskin (1990) does include measures related to information and motivation as predictors of “ideological sophistication” in a multiplicative form model, which makes the effect of any one predictor conditional on all others. Nevertheless, this general multiplicative form does not allow one to identify specific moderating effects of a particular variable on the relationship between two other particular variables. Moreover, Luskin’s (1990) measure of ideological sophistication fails to include a key element of the “use” of ideology (i.e., constraint), while including measures which can be plausibly regarded as measures of information as well as reliance on ideology.

  3. 3.

    Since data from the full set of factual-knowledge items for the 2008 ANES have not been coded or released as of this writing (http://www.electionstudies.org/studypages/2008prepost/2008prepost.htm), we rely on the less-recent 2004 ANES.

  4. 4.

    The cumulative response rate is computed by multiplying these three component rates together (i.e., 20 × 54.5 × 65.7%; see Callegaro and DiSogra 2008).

  5. 5.

    This measure can be constructed so as to assess consistency with respect to predefined liberal or conservative positions or consistency with respect to “centrist” positions defined by the sample mean on each item. The former measure is constructed in the fashion described above; the latter is constructed by standardizing all issue-attitude scores before computing standard deviations (Barton and Parsons 1977). Since we are interested in consistency with respect to the options offered by the items themselves—which reflect the “conservative” and “liberal” options defined by elites—we opt for the former operationalization. However, in both datasets, our results were identical when horizontal constraint was constructed using standardized issue scores.

  6. 6.

    This measure is similar to one used by Federico (2007), with two differences: (1) the present measure reverses the Federico measure so that higher scores indicate more rather than less bipolarity; and (2) the Federico measure includes an additional correction for the extent to which the respondent gave highly positive evaluations of both conservatives and liberals by subtracting the respondent’s average evaluation of the two from the absolute difference used here. Our results were identical when the Federico index was substituted for our measure.

  7. 7.

    While it was possible to construct all three constraint indices used in the 2004 ANES in the 2008 IMIS as well, we excluded the vertical-constraint index based on the average absolute distance between 7-point ideological self-placement and individual issue positions. The latter index was excluded because it considerably lowered the reliability of the composite constraint measure. However, even when this less-reliable three-item measure was substituted for the two-item measure used in the primary IMIS analyzes, all of the critical interactions remained significant. Moreover, when the third omitted item was used on its own as a dependent variable, all of the critical interactions were significant. These analyzes are available on request.

  8. 8.

    In order to highlight each, we report separate models for each interaction in the main text. However, in order to be sure that interest and partisan extremity both independently moderated the impact of information, we ran an additional model in which both the Information × Interest in Politics and the Information × Partisan Extremity interactions were included. The estimates from this model revealed a significant Information × Interest in Politics interaction (b = .16, p < .01) and a significant Information × Partisan Extremity interaction (b = .13, p < .01), with an adjusted R 2 of 0.204 for the full model. Complete results are available upon request from the authors.

  9. 9.

    The Information × Centrality of Politics and the Information × Partisan Extremity interactions in Models 2 and 3 from Table 1 remain significant when the Information × Need to evaluate interaction (see Federico and Schneider 2007) is added to the models (both ps < 0.01).

  10. 10.

    To be sure that interest and partisan extremity both independently moderated the impact of information on bipolarity, we again estimated a model in which both the Information × Interest in Politics and the Information × Partisan Extremity interactions were included. The estimates from this model revealed a significant Information × Interest in Politics interaction (b = 0.37, p < 0.001) and a significant Information × Partisan Extremity interaction (b = 0.27, p < 0.001), with an adjusted R 2 of 0.223 for the full model. Complete results are available upon request from the authors.

  11. 11.

    As with ideological constraint, the Information × Interest in Politics and the Information × Partisan Extremity interactions in Models 2 and 3 from Table 2 remain significant when the Information × Need to Evaluate interaction is added to the models (both ps < .001).

  12. 12.

    Since information was correlated with interest (r = 0.52, p < 0.001) and partisan extremity (r = 0.19, p < 0.001), we ran additional models that included the two quadratic terms for the variables involved in the interaction included in any given model to be sure that any significant interaction between them was not masking a significant curvilinear effect of either constituent variable (Ganzach 1997). In the Information × Interest in Politics models (parallel to Model 2), the key interaction remained significant with respect to constraint (b = 0.25, p < 0.01) and bipolarity (b = 0.49, p < 0.001). Similarly, in the Information × Partisan Extremity models (parallel to Model 3), the key interaction remained significant with respect to constraint (b = 0.21, p < 0.001) and bipolarity (b = 0.29, p < 0.001). We also looked at whether the portions of variance in interest and extremity that are independent of information moderate the relationship between information and each dependent variable. We first created a “net interest” variable by regressing interest on information and saving the residuals. These residuals were recoded to run from 0 to 1 and then used as the net interest variable. The same was done to create a “net extremity” variable. When each dependent variable was regressed on information, net interest, the Information × Net Interest interaction, and the controls, information and net interest significantly interacted to predict constraint (b = 0.27, p < 0.001) and bipolarity (b = 0.45, p < 0.001). Similarly, when each dependent variable was regressed on information, net extremity, the Information × Net Extremity interaction, and the controls, information and net extremity significantly interacted to predict constraint (b = 0.17, p < 0.001) and bipolarity (b = 0.33, p < 0.001).

  13. 13.

    To ensure that centrality and partisan extremity both independently moderated the impact of information on bipolarity, we ran a model in which both the Information × Centrality of Politics and the Information × Partisan Extremity interactions were included. The estimates from this model revealed a significant Information × Centrality Politics interaction (b = 0.17, p < 0.01) and a significant Information × Partisan Extremity interaction (b = 0.17, p < 0.001), with an adjusted R 2 of 0.115 for the full model. Complete results are available upon request from the authors.

  14. 14.

    Since information was significantly correlated with centrality of politics (r = 0.37, p < 0.001) and partisan extremity (r = 0.19, p < 0.001), we also ran additional models that included the two quadratic terms for the variables involved in the interaction included in any given model to be sure that any significant interaction was not conflated with significant curvilinear effects. In the Information × Centrality Politics model (parallel to Model 2), the key interaction remained significant (b = 0.18, p < 0.01). Similarly, in the Information × Partisan Extremity model (parallel to Model 3), the key interaction remained significant (b = 0.18, p < 0.001). As before, we also looked at whether the portions of variance in centrality and extremity that are independent of information moderate the relationship between information and ideological constraint. To do this, we created “net centrality” and “net extremity” variables using the same regression procedures employed in the 2004 ANES. When constraint was regressed on information, net centrality, net extremity, the Information × Net Centrality interaction, and the controls, the interaction was significant (b = 0.26, p < 0.001). Similarly, when constraint was regressed on information, net centrality, net extremity, the Information × Net Extremity interaction, and the controls, the interaction was significant (b = 0.22, p < 0.001). Thus, alternative analyzes again replicate the results of our main analyzes.

  15. 15.

    The key Information × Centrality of Politics and the Information × Partisan Extremity interactions in Models 2 and 3 from Table 3 remain significant when the Information × Need to Evaluate interaction is added to the models (both ps < 0.01).

  16. 16.

    Our analyzes assume linear moderating effects of interest in politics, centrality of politics to the self, and partisan extremity. However, it is possible that the moderating effects of these variables might be nonlinear, such the impact of information on constraint and bipolarity is strongest either at middling levels of each moderator or both extremes of each moderator. To explore this possibility, we ran additional models in which each dependent variable was regressed on the controls, the main effect terms for information, the relevant moderator, the relevant Information × Moderator interaction, the square of the moderator, and a term equal to the product of information and the square of the moderator (Jaccard and Turrisi 2003). The linear and nonlinear moderating effects of each moderator were examined in a separate model, parallel to the linear moderation models in Tables 1, 2, and 3. A nonlinear moderating effect would be indicated by a significant coefficient for the last term. In 2004, the coefficient for the product of information and the square of interest was not significant in either the constraint or the bipolarity model; similarly, the coefficient for the product of information and the square of extremity was not significant in the either model. However, the Information × Interest and Information × Partisan Extremity interactions remained significant in all models. Similarly, for constraint in 2008, the coefficient for the product of information and the square of centrality failed to reach to significance in its model; similarly, the coefficient for the product of information and the square of extremity failed to reach to significance in its model. Again, the Information × Centrality and Information × Partisan Extremity interactions remained significant in both models. Complete results are available upon request from the authors.

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Acknowledgments

Portions of this article were presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 2–5 September 2010. The authors would like to thank the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, for the 2004 American National Election Study data; and James Druckman, for his helpful comments. Funding for the 2008 IMIS was provided by National Science Foundation Grant BCS-0742455 to Christopher M. Federico.

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Appendix: Measures from the 2004 ANES and 2008 IMIS

Appendix: Measures from the 2004 ANES and 2008 IMIS

2004 American National Election Study

Full question wordings for the following items can be found at the ANES website: http://www.electionstudies.org/studypages/2004prepost/2004prepost.htm.

Composite Ideological Constraint

Three sets of variables were used to construct this measure: (1) ten issue items, i.e., services and spending, defense spending, national health insurance, guaranteed jobs, government assistance to blacks, affirmative action, women’s rights, abortion, gay rights, gun control (items v043136, v043142, v043150, v043152, v043158, v045207a, v043196, v053132, v045156a, v043189); (2) the post-election 7-point ideology scale (v045118); and (3) the conservative and liberal feeling thermometers (v045069, v045062).

Ideological Bipolarity

This measure relied on the conservative and liberal feeling thermometers (v045069, v045062).

Political Information

Based on seven open-ended items asking about: (1) which party controlled the House prior to the 2004 election (v045088); (2) which party controlled the Senate prior to the election (v045089); (3) which party is more conservative at the national level (v045160, v045160a); (4) the office held by Dennis Hastert (v045162); (5) the office held by Dick Cheney (v045163); (6) the office held by Tony Blair (v045164); and (7) the office held by William Rehnquist (v045165).

Interest in Politics

Based on six items: (1) Is respondent interested in political campaigns (v045001); (2) did respondent watch programs about campaign on TV (v045002); (3) did respondent read about the campaign in any magazines (v045004); (4) did respondent listen to campaign speeches or discussion on radio (v045005); (5) does the respondent ever talk politics with family or friends? (v045153); (6) how often does the respondent follow government and public affairs (scored 1 if respondent follows at least some of the time, 0 otherwise; v045095).

Extremity of Partisanship

Constructed from the 7-point 2004 ANES pre-election partisanship summary item (v043116).

Need for Cognition

Based on two items: (1) “Some people like to have responsibility for handling situations that require a lot of thinking, and other people don’t like to have responsibility for situations like that. What about you?” Those who responded that they did “like” or “dislike” thinking situations were given a follow-up question where they were asked if they liked or disliked thinking situations “a lot” or “somewhat” (v045220, v045220a); (2) “Some people prefer to solve simple problems instead of complex ones, whereas other people prefer to solve more complex problems. Which type of problem to you prefer to solve: simple or complex?” (v045221).

Need to Evaluate

Based on two items: (1) “Some people have opinions about almost everything; other people have opinions about just some things; and still other people have very few opinions. What about you?” (responses included almost everything, about many things, about some things, or about very few things; v045218); (2) “Compared to the average person, do you have fewer opinions about whether things are good or bad, about the same number of opinions, or more opinions?” Those who indicated that they had “fewer” or “more” opinions received a follow-up question asking if they had “a lot” or “somewhat” fewer or more opinions (v045219, v045219a).

Demographics

Five measures were considered: (1) Age (v043250); (2) income (v043293x); (3) race (based on v043299); (4) gender (v043411); (5) college degree (based on v043254);

Information, Motivation, and Ideology Study

Full question wordings for the following items can be found at the codebook website for the 2008 IMIS: http://www.psych.umn.edu/people/faculty/federico/imis.pdf.

Composite Ideological Constraint

Two sets of variables were used: (1) eight 7-point issue items, constructed from eight sets of branching items (services and spending, based on Q30, Q30a, Q30b; defense spending, based on Q31, Q31a, Q31b; guaranteed jobs, based on Q32, Q32a, Q32b; government assistance to blacks, based on Q33, Q33a, Q33b; women’s rights, based on Q34, Q34a, Q34b; environmental regulation, based on based on Q35, Q35a, Q35b; abortion, based on Q36, Q36a, Q36b; gay rights, based on Q37, Q37a, Q37b); and (2) a 7-point ideology scale similar to the one used in the 2004 ANES (constructed from a set of branching items: Q28, Q28a, Q28b, Q28c).

Political Information

Based on eight multiple-choice items asking about: (1) the job or political office held by Dick Cheney (Q20); (2) the job or political office held by John Roberts (Q21); (3) the job or political office held by Gordon Brown (Q22); (4) the job or political office held by Nancy Pelosi (Q23); (5) the political party that had the most members in the Senate in Washington prior to the 2008 election (Q24); (6) the political party had the most members in the House of Representatives in Washington prior to the 2008 election (Q25); (7) how long the term of office for a US senator is (Q26); and (8) whose responsibility it is to nominate judges to the federal courts—the president, the Congress, or the Supreme Court (Q27).

Extremity of Partisanship

Constructed from a 7-point partisanship summary item similar to the 2004 ANES partisanship item. The summary item itself was constructed from a set of branching items (Q29, Q29a, Q29b, Q29c).

Centrality of Politics to the Self

Based on two items: (1) “My political attitudes and beliefs are an important reflection of who I am” (Q4), and (2) “In general, my political attitudes and beliefs are an important part of my self-image” (Q5). Both items were answered on a 7-point Likert-type scaling ranging from one (strongly agree) to seven (strongly disagree).

Need to Evaluate

Based on items identical to those used in the 2004 ANES (items Q1, Q2, Q2a, Q2b).

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Federico, C.M., Hunt, C.V. Political Information, Political Involvement, and Reliance on Ideology in Political Evaluation. Polit Behav 35, 89–112 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-011-9184-7

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Keywords

  • Ideology
  • Political expertise
  • Political involvement