Self-Awareness of Political Knowledge

  • Matthew H. GrahamEmail author
Original Paper


Despite widespread concern over false beliefs about politically-relevant facts, little is known about how strongly Americans believe their answers to poll questions. I propose a conceptual framework for characterizing survey responses about facts: self-awareness, or how well people can assess their own knowledge. I measure self-awareness of political knowledge by eliciting respondent certainty about answers to 24 factual questions about politics. Even on “unfavorable” facts that are inconvenient to the respondent’s political party, more-certain respondents are more likely to answer correctly. Because people are somewhat aware of their ignorance, respondents usually describe their incorrect responses as low-certainty guesses, not high-certainty beliefs. Where misperceptions exist, they tend to be bipartisan: Democrats and Republicans perform poorly on the same questions and explain their answers using similar points of reference.


Public opinion Political knowledge Factual beliefs False beliefs Misperceptions Metacognition 



This research was funded by the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. For helpful comments on earlier versions of this work I thank Alex Coppock, Greg Huber, Kyle Peyton, Sue Stokes, Allison Archer, Nicky Bell, seminar participants at Yale and the Midwest Political Science Association, and three anonymous reviewers. Yale’s Institutional Review Board reviewed and approved the study (2000020387). An overview of the analytic plan was pre-registered in the Evidence in Governance and Politics repository (20170629AA). A replication file is available at

Supplementary material

11109_2018_9499_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (313 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 314 KB)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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