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Making a Difference: Political Efficacy and Policy Preference Construction

  • Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan and Eran Halperin

How does individual political efficacy affect the construction of policy preferences? This article presents a model of individual-level politicization of policy preference, which draws on psychological and political explanations and posits that greater external political efficacy results in a stronger effect of political ideology on concrete policy preference. Two empirical studies that test this hypothesis are reported: an original survey experiment conducted in Israel, and an analysis that relies on the 2002 wave of the European Social Survey. The empirical findings support the hypothesis. In contrast to the established conviction that no association exists between political efficacy and policy preferences, these findings reveal that external political efficacy has a polarizing effect on expressed policy preferences.

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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (email:; and Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (email:, respectively. The authors wish to thank Bethany Albertson, Andrea L. Campbell, Daphna Canetti, Orit Kedar, Micha Mandel, Dan Miodownik, Lilach Nir, Tamir Sheafer, Gadi Wolfsfeld, the editors of the British Journal of Political Science, three anonymous reviewers, and participants of seminars at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and the Midwest Political Science Association Conference (2010), for valuable comments and suggestions. Appendix 2 can be viewed at 〈〉.

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34 It should be noted that this study provides empirical tests for the hypothetical outcome of these theoretical accounts. However, we do not purport to determine here which one of these theoretical accounts (or possibly both) is the underlying mechanism/s of this outcome.

35 One hundred and fifty articles that included the name ‘Gilad Shalit’ appeared in Ha'aretz national newspaper during January 2010.

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Bar-Tal, Dan, Halperin, Eran and Oren, Neta, ‘Socio-Psychological Barriers to Peace Making: The Case of the Israeli Jewish Society’, Social Issues and Social Policy Review, 4 (2010), 63109

37 ‘Need for structure’, self-efficacy’, ‘authoritarianism’, ‘cognitive reflection test’ (CRT), a series of questions which gauge time-preferences and risk preferences.

38 The main goal of the pilot study was to identify an experimental treatment that would successfully influence the subject's perceived external political efficacy. Ninety-seven Israeli students (71 females, 24 males, 2 unspecified; M age = 24.20, SD = 1.57) from two different academic institutions in Israel participated in the pilot study. They were randomly assigned to a high external political efficacy condition (N = 33), a low external political efficacy condition (N = 31), or a control condition (N = 33), and were exposed to the experimental conditions described in the text. To evaluate the effectiveness of the manipulation, participants were asked to indicate to what extent (1 = not at all, to 7 = very much) they thought that citizens had an influence on the government's policy regarding the negotiations with Hamas about the Gilad Shalit deal. A one-way ANOVA using Tukey post hoc tests showed that the manipulation had an effect on participants’ perceptions regarding citizens’ influence on actual decision making regarding the Shalit deal (F = 3.60, p = 0.03). Participants in the high external political efficacy group (M = 4.87, SD = 1.54) believed that citizens had more influence on the government decision than those in the low external political efficacy group (M = 3.68, SD = 1.82; p = 0.05). Interestingly, almost the same differences (although only marginally significant) in levels of perceived influence were found between the low influence group and the control group (M = 4.79, SD = 1.86; p = 0.06). It is worth noting that we used the pilot study to examine additional alternatives for external political efficacy treatment, but they did not yield any significant effects.

39 Oppenheimer, Daniel M., Meyvis, Tom and Davidenko, Nicolas, ‘Instructional Manipulation Checks: Detecting Satisficing to Increase Statistical Power’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (2009), 867872

40 Simon, Herbert A., ‘A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 69 (1955), 99118

41 Oppenheimer, Meyvis and Davidenko, ‘Instructional Manipulation Checks’.

42 No association exists between the timing of ideology measurement and experimental group allocation (χ2 = 0.04, p = 0.978); no difference in the distribution of responses to this question in the two measurements (χ2 = 0.83, p = 0.935); And no association was found between reported ideology in both ‘early’ and particularly ‘late’ measurements and experimental group allocation (F = 0.78, p = 0.459; and F = 0.78, p = 0.462, respectively). The main analysis was also conducted separately in the two groups, yielding substantively identical interaction-term coefficients (b = 0.072, p < 0.01 and b = 0.072, p < 0.01, respectively). The marginal statistical significance is due to the limited number of observations in the subgroups.

43 ‘What is the maximum number of Palestinian prisoners that should be released in your opinion in an agreement for the release of Gilad Shalit? 1. Not willing to release prisoners; 2. Up to 10 prisoners; 3. 10–50 prisoners; 4. 50–100 prisoners; 5. 100–250 prisoners; 6. 250–500 prisoners; 7. 500–1000 prisoners; 8. Any number needed.’

44 The two questions have an unequal number of choices (8 and 7). In order to balance the weight of the two questions the transformation relied on the following procedure: Deal_policy = 0.5{(prisoner_to_release/8) + (1000_prisoners_release_deal/7)} yielding a new variable that gives equal weight to the two items, and ranges between 0 and 1.

45 Based on data drawn from the Central Bureau of Statistics:

46 Our main hypothesis is directional in the sense that external political efficacy is expected to increase the association between ideology and policy preference (rather than merely alter it). Under such a hypothesis it is appropriate to use a one-tailed significance test.

47 It is possible that the treatment of political efficacy resulted in different levels of effort on the part of respondents to provide accurately true responses, and that this, rather than ideological polarization, accounts for the reported finding. The results of two analyses are sufficient to alley this concern. First, as noted above, the proportion of respondents who passed the IMC is not significantly related to the experimental groups (p = 0.538); Secondly, a variance comparison test between the ‘Low’ and ‘High’ political efficacy groups shows no significant difference in the variance between the two groups for the policy preference answers: ‘low-efficacy group’ SD = 0.3043; ‘high-efficacy group’ SD = 0.3047; p = 0.988; Moreover, neither were any significant differences in variance found in separate analyses for left-wing and right-wing supporters (p = 0.525 and p = 0.683, respectively).

48 R. Jowell and the Central Co-ordinating Team, European Social Survey 2002/2003: Technical Report (London: Centre for Comparative Social Surveys, City University, 2003).

49 Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Slovenia.

50 The 2004 and 2006 waves include only three questions gauging internal political efficacy (POLINTR, POLCOMPL, POLDCS), and the 2008 wave includes only two questions gauging internal political efficacy (POLCMPL, POLDCS).

51 Hayes and Bean, ‘Political Efficacy’.

52 Loewenstein, Karl, ‘Militant Democracy and Fundamental Rights, II’, American Political Science Review, 31 (1937), 638658

Cohen-Almagor, Raphael, The Boundaries of Liberty and Tolerance: The Struggle against Kahanism in Israel (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994)

53 Zaller, John, ‘Political Awareness, Elite Opinion Leadership, and the Mass Survey Response’, Social Cognition, 8 (1990), 125153

54 Fiske, Susan T., Lau, Richard R. and Smith, Richard A., ‘On the Varieties and Utilities of Political Expertise’, Social Cognition, 8 (1990), 3148

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55 Samuel L. Popkin, The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns, 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

56 See relevant references in fn. 51. We rely on three items available in the ESS: time spent watching news or current affairs on the television; time spent listening to news or current affairs on the radio; and time spent reading about politics and current affairs in the newspapers.

57 Piurko, Yuval, Schwartz, Shalom H. and Davidov, Eldad, ‘Basic Personal Values and the Meaning of Left–Right Orientations in 20 Countries’, Political Psychology, 32 (2011), 537561

58 Karp, Jeffrey A. and Banducci, Susan A., ‘Political Efficacy and Participation in Twenty Seven Democracies: How Electoral Systems Shape Political Behavior’, British Journal of Political Science, 38 (2008), 311334

59 Gallagher, Michael, ‘Proportionality, Disproportionality and Electoral Systems’, Electoral Studies, 10 (1991), 3351

60 The Ln transformation had an R 2 of 0.3 in predicting external political efficacy, compared with 0.12 for the raw disproportionality variable.

61 It should be noted that contrary to theoretical expectations, most of the (unconditional) associations between external (as well as internal) political efficacy and policy preferences in the 2002 ESS data are statistically significant, and some appear to be substantively meaningful (immigration policy). Such an association was not found in experimental treatment in Study I, suggesting that these associations may reflect confounding factors.

62 Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William R. and Golder, Matt, ‘Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses’, Political Analysis, 14 (2006), 6382

63 As can be expected the null association between ideology and militant democracy policy resulted in null associations also in the conditional associations (see Table 5).

64 We re-estimated all the models within each country as a robustness check. These analyses involved 66 country–policy issue pairs (omitting cases in which no overall association between ideology and policy preference was found). Statistically significant (at p < 0.10) and consistent results were obtained for 65 per cent of the country–policy pairs.

65 Delli Carpini and Keeter, What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters; Lodge, McGraw and Stroh, ‘An Impression-Driven Model of Candidate Evaluation’; Luskin, ‘Measuring Political Sophistication’; Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion.

Samuel L. Popkin, The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns, 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

66 (1) Time spent watching news or current affairs on the television; (2) time spent listening to news or current affairs on the radio; and (3) time spent reading about politics and current affairs in the newspapers.

67 Madsen, Douglas, ‘Political Self-Efficacy Tested’, American Political Science Review, 81 (1987), 571581

68 The only case in which the interaction between internal efficacy and policy preference is only marginally significant (p = 0.088) is in Model 24 for anti-hate legislation preference – much like the findings with external efficacy.

69 The analysis controls for the sophistication effect (education level as proxy), education level, gender, age, whether the country is traditional, former communist, logged disproportionality of parliament seats and votes, coalition size, and country fixed effects.

70 0.124 log odds; 30.5 per cent change in the ordinal level of policy preference of on SD change in ideology; p < 0.001.

71 A further set of analyses including both external and internal efficacy, their respective interactions with ideology while controlling for the sophistication (education) interaction, and the set of individual and macro controls for the four groups of policies yielded similar substantive results.

72 Federico and Schneider, ‘Political Expertise and the Use of Ideology’.

73 Campbell, Gurin and Miller, The Voter Decides.

74 These were conducted by creating new groups by merging right-wing and left-wing identifiers from different experimental groups, and calculating these groups proportion of support for the release bargain. For example, the top-right cell of Table 9 was calculated by taking the left-wing identifiers from the high-PE group and the right-wing identifiers from the low-PE group (n = 160), and calculating their overall proportion of support for the deal. Such groups provide four different distributions of political efficacy, across ideological groups: two uniform distributions (top-left and bottom-right), and two with uneven distribution (top-right and bottom-left).

75 Hug and Sciarini, ‘Referendums on European Integration’.

76 Wollman, Neil and Strouder, Robin, ‘Believed Efficacy and Political Activity: A Test of the Specificity Hypothesis’, Journal of Social Psychology, 131 (1991), 557566

Morrell, Michael E., ‘Deliberation, Democratic Decision-Making and Internal Political Efficacy’, Political Behavior, 27 (2005), 4969

77 Verba, Sidney, Schlozman, Kay L. and Brady, Henry E., Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995)

78 For more about this distinction, see Morrell, ‘Deliberation, Democratic Decision-Making and Internal Political Efficacy’.

79 Wollman and Strouder, ‘Believed Efficacy and Political Activity’.

* The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (email: ); and Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (email: ), respectively. The authors wish to thank Bethany Albertson, Andrea L. Campbell, Daphna Canetti, Orit Kedar, Micha Mandel, Dan Miodownik, Lilach Nir, Tamir Sheafer, Gadi Wolfsfeld, the editors of the British Journal of Political Science, three anonymous reviewers, and participants of seminars at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and the Midwest Political Science Association Conference (2010), for valuable comments and suggestions. Appendix 2 can be viewed at 〈〉.

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