When Bad News is Good News: Information Acquisition in Times of Economic Crisis
A strong argument can be made for the prime importance of information in the context of an economic recession. It is in times of crisis that information on the state of the economy is abundant and citizens have incentives to acquire it in order to sanction incumbents for mismanagement of the economy. Simultaneously, however, economic hardship strains people’s cognitive resources and motivations to seek relevant information. Using a novel research design, we assess how the recent economic recession has shaped information acquisition. Our results indicate that while personal economic hardship depresses levels of information, the recession overall boosted considerably the public’s knowledge of the state of the economy and, to a lesser degree, of parties’ policy positions in elections. For both economic and electoral types of information, economically marginal groups caught up to the economically secure in contexts of economic hardship, thereby reducing information inequalities. We discuss the findings’ implications for representative democracy.
KeywordsElectoral information Economic information Gaps in political knowledge Economic crisis Economic voting
We thank Tim Hellwig, Enrique Hernández, Jordi Muñoz, Paul Marx and the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions. We also thank the participants at the workshops “Inequalities in Political Knowledge” at the ECPR Joint Sessions in Salamanca, ‘Political knowledge and information processing’ at the University of Vienna and the CSES conference ‘Representation and Participation around the World’ in Taipei, for their helpful remarks on earlier versions of this paper. Replication materials can be found at https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/HH369O.
- Bennett, W. L., & Paletz, D. L. (1994). Taken by storm: The media, public opinion, and US foreign policy in the gulf war. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Bremer, B. 2016 “What is left of the left? The response of left-wing parties to the great recession in electoral campaigns”. Paper presented at the CES Conference.Google Scholar
- Burden, B. C., & Wichowsky, A. 2012. “Unemployment and voter turnout.” In APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper.Google Scholar
- Carpini, D., Michael, X., & Keeter, S. (1996). What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Fagin, L., & Little, M. (1984). The forsaken families: The effects of unemployment on family life. Suffolk: Richard Clay Ltd.Google Scholar
- Jahoda, M., Lazarsfeld, P. F., & Zeisel, H. (1972). The Sociography of an unemployed community: Marienthal. London: Tavistock Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
- Kayser, M. (2014). The elusive economic vote. In L. LeDuc, R. G. Niemi, & P. Norris (Eds.), Comparing democracies (Vol. 4, pp. 112–132). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
- Luskin, R. C. (2003). The heavenly public: What Would a fully informed citizenry be like? In M. B. MacKuen & G. Rabinowitz (Eds.), Electoral democracy (pp. 238–261). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
- Marcus, G. E., Russell Neuman, W., & MacKuen, M. (2000). Affective intelligence and political judgment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Marks, G., & Steenbergen, M. R. 1999. “Expert Survey on National Parties and the European Union.” http://www.unc.edu/~gmarks.
- Menard, S. (2007). Handbook of longitudinal research: Design, measurement, and analysis. Amsterdam: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Page, B., & Shapiro, R. Y. (1993). The rational public and democracy. In G. E. Marcus & R. L. Hanson (Eds.), Reconsidering the democratic public (pp. 35–64). University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
- Ponticelli, J. & Voth, H.-J. (2011) Austerity and anarchy: Budget cuts and social unrest in Europe, 1919–2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1899287
- Popkin, S. L., & Dimock, M. A. (2007). Political knowledge and citizen competence. In S. L. Elkin & K. E. Soltan (Eds.), Citizen competence and democratic institutions (pp. 117–146). University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
- Rabe-Hesketh, S., & Skrondal, A. (2008). Multilevel and longitudinal modeling using stata. College Station, Texas: STATA Press.Google Scholar
- Raudenbush, S., & Bryk, A. (2002). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
- Runciman, W. G. (1966). Relative deprivation and social justice: A study of attitudes to social inequality in twentieth-century England. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
- Schudson, M. (1999). The good citizen: A history of American civic life. Cambridge: Harvard Univerity Press.Google Scholar
- Sniderman, P. M., Glazer, J., & Griffin, R. (1990). Information and democratic processes. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar