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Personal or Impersonal Evaluations? Political Sophistication and Citizen Conceptions of the Democratic Process

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 December 2021

Lauri Rapeli*
Social Science Research Institute, Åbo Akademi University, Åbo, Finland
Åsa von Schoultz
Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
*Corresponding author. Email:


An energetic scholarly debate discusses possible reforms of representative democracy. Some support participatory forms of democracy, others a more elite-driven or technocratic democracy. This study contributes to the growing literature on the subject by emphasizing political sophistication as a theoretically relevant predictor of attitudes to democracy: different models of democracy make different demands regarding the political sophistication of citizens. The analysis includes two dimensions and three measures of sophistication: personal sophistication measured as political knowledge and internal efficacy, and impersonal sophistication measured as assessment of others’ political competence. Using the 2011 Finnish National Election Study, we find that perceptions of the sophistication of others have a substantial impact on preferences for political decision-making, and that politically sophisticated people support representative democracy. The analysis shows that perceptions of others’ political competence, which has been largely neglected by previous research, is a both theoretically and empirically relevant predictor of preferences for political decision-making processes.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Government and Opposition Limited

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