Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

The Fact of Experience: Rethinking Political Knowledge and Civic Competence

  • Katherine J. Cramer and Benjamin Toff

Abstract

In the study of political knowledge, the emphasis on facts is misplaced. Evidence has grown that predispositions and social contexts shape how individuals are exposed to and interpret facts about politics, and the ready availability of information in the contemporary media environment may exacerbate these biases. We reexamine political knowledge from the bottom up. We look at what citizens themselves treat as relevant to the task of understanding public affairs and how they use this information. We draw upon our research in three different projects involving observation of political talk and elite interviews to do so. We observe that people across a range of levels of political engagement process political information through the lens of their personal experience. Failing to acknowledge this aspect of the act of using political information presents an incomplete empirical understanding of political knowledge. We propose an Expanded Model of Civic Competence that presents an alternative interpretation for what it means to be an informed citizen in a democracy. In this model, the competence of listening to and understanding the different lived experiences of others cannot be considered separately from levels of factual knowledge.

Copyright

References

Hide All
Abrajano, Marisa. 2015. “Reexamining the “Racial Gap” in Political Knowledge.” Journal of Politics 77(1): 4454.
Achen, Christopher C. and Bartels, Larry M.. 2016. Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Althaus, Scott L. 1998. “Information Effects in Collective Preferences.” American Political Science Review 92(3): 545–58.
Barabas, Jason, Jerit, Jennifer, Pollock, William, and Rainey, Carlisle. 2014. “The Question(s) of Political Knowledge.” American Political Science Review 108(4): 840–55.
Bartels, Larry M. 1996. “Uninformed Votes: Information Effects in Presidential Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 40(1): 194230.
Bartels, Larry M. 2002. “Beyond the Running Tally: Partisan Bias in Political Perceptions.” Political Behavior 24(2): 117–50.
Bartels, Larry M. 2005. “Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind.” Perspectives on Politics 3(1): 1531.
Bartels, Larry M. 2008. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Bartels, Larry M. 2016. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, 2d ed. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Brady, Henry E. and Sniderman, Paul M.. 1985. “Attitude Attribution: A Group Basis for Political Reasoning.” American Political Science Review 79(4): 1061–78.
Bolsen, Toby, Druckman, James N., and Cook, Fay Lomax. 2015. “Citizens’, Scientists’, and Policy Advisors’ Beliefs about Global Warming.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 658: 271–95.
Campbell, Andrea. 2003. How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Political Activism and the American Welfare State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. The American Voter. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Carnes, Nicholas. 2013. White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Carnes, Nicholas and Lupu, Noam. 2015. “What Good Is a College Degree? Education and Leader Quality Reconsidered.” Journal of Politics 78(1): 3549.
Clifford, Scott and Jerit, Jennifer. 2016. “Cheating on Political Knowledge Questions in Online Surveys: An Assessment of the Problem and Solutions.” Public Opinion Quarterly 80(4): 858887.
Cramer, Katherine. 2016. The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Cramer Walsh, Katherine. 2004. Talking About Politics: Informal Groups and Social Identity in American Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Cramer Walsh, Katherine. 2007. Talking About Race: Community Dialogues and the Politics of Disagreement. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Delli, Carpini, X., Michael, and Keeter, Scott. 1996. What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Delli, Carpini, X., Michael, Keeter, Scott, and David Kennamer, J.. 1994. “Effects of the News Media Environment on Citizen Knowledge of State Politics and Government.” Journalism Quarterly 71(2): 443–56.
Dolan, Kathleen. 2011. “Do Women and Men Know Different Things? Measuring Gender Differences in Political Knowledge.” Journal of Politics 73(1): 97107.
Druckman, James N. and Nelson, K. R. 2003. “Framing and Deliberation: How Citizens’ Conversations Limit Elite Influence.” American Journal of Political Science 47: 729–45.
Egan, Patrick J. and Mullin, Megan. 2012 “Turning Personal Experience into Political Attitudes: The Effect of Local Weather on Americans’ Perceptions about Global Warming” Journal of Politics 74(3): 796809.
Erbring, Lutz, Goldenberg, Edie N., and Miller, Arthur H.. 1980. “Front-Page News and Real World Cues: A New Look at Agenda-Setting by Media.” American Journal of Political Science 24(1): 1649.
Eveland, William P. Jr. 2004. “The Effect of Political Discussion in Producing Informed Citizens: The Roles of Information, Motivation, and Elaboration.” Journal of Communication 21(2): 177–93.
Eveland, William P., Morey, Alyssa C. and Hutchens, Myiah J.. 2011. “Beyond Deliberation: New Directions for the Study of Informal Political Conversation from a Communication Perspective.” Journal of Communication 61(6): 1082–103.
Fisher, Pamela. 2007. “Experiential Knowledge Challenges ‘Normality’ and Individualized Citizenship: Towards ‘Another Way of Being.’” Disability & Society 22(3): 283–298.
Funk, Cary and Rainie, Lee. 2015. “Attitudes and Beliefs on Science and Technology Topics.” In Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society. Pew Research Center. January 29.Available at http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/chapter-3-attitudes-and-beliefs-on-science-and-technology-topics/
Gaines, Brian, Kuklinski, James H., Quirk, Paul J., Peyton, Buddy, and Verkuilen, Jay. 2007. ‘‘Same Facts, Different Interpretations: Partisan Motivation and Opinion on Iraq.’’ Journal of Politics 69(4): 957–74.
Harris-Lacewell, Melissa V. 2004. Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hayes, Danny and Lawless, Jennifer L.. 2015. “As Local News Goes, So Goes Citizen Engagement: Media, Knowledge, and Participation in U.S. House Elections.” Journal of Politics 77(2): 447–62.
Hess, Diana E. and McAvoy, Paula. 2014. The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education. New York: Routledge.
Hochschild, Jennifer L. and Einstein, Katherine Levine. 2015. Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in American Politics. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Holbert, R. Lance, Benoit, William, Hansen, Glenn, and Wen, Wei-Chun. 2002. “The Role of Communication in the Formation of an Issue-Based Citizenry.” Communication Monographs 69(4): 296310.
Hopkins, Dan. 2014. “All Politics Is Presidential.” FiveThirtyEight. March 27. Available at http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/all-politics-is-presidential/
Jacobs, Lawrence R., Lomax Cook, Faye, and X, Michael. Carpini, Delli. 2009. Talking Together: Public Deliberation and Political Participation in America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Jerit, Jennifer and Barabas, Jason. 2012. “Partisan Perceptual Bias and the Information Environment.” Journal of Politics 74(3): 672–84.
Joslyn, Mark R. and Haider-Markel, Donald P.. 2014. “Who Knows Best? Education, Partisanship, and Contested Facts” Politics and Policy 42(6): 919–47.
Kinder, Donald R. 1981. “Presidents, Prosperity, and Public Opinion.” Public Opinion Quarterly 45(1): 120.
Kinder, Donald R. and Roderick Kiewiet, D.. 1981. “Sociotropic Politics: The American Case.” British Journal of Political Science 11(2): 129–61.
Kinder, Donald R. and Sears, David O.. 1981. “Prejudice and Politics: Symbolic Racism versus Racial Threats to the Good Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40(3): 414–31.
Lenz, Gabriel S. 2012. Follow the Leader? How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Policies and Performance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Lupia, Arthur. 2016. Uninformed: Why People Know So Little about Politics and What We Can Do about It. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lupia, Arthur, Seth Levine, Adam, Menning, Jesse O., and Sin, Gisela. 2007. “Were Bush Tax Cut Supporters ‘Simply Ignorant?’ A Second Look at Conservatives and Liberals in ‘Homer Gets a Tax Cut.’” Perspectives on Politics 5(4): 773–84.
Mettler, Suzanne. 2005. Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mettler, Suzanne. 2011. The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Mondak, Jeffery J. and Anderson, Mary R.. 2004. “The Knowledge Gap: A Reexamination of Gender-Based Differences in Political Knowledge.” Journal of Politics 66(2): 492512.
Motta, Matthew P., Callaghan, Timothy H., and Smith, Brianna. 2016. “Looking for Answers: Identifying Search Behavior and Improving Knowledge-Based Data Quality in Online Surveys.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research. Advance Access at http://ijpor.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/09/05/ijpor.edw027.short
Mutz, Diana C. 2006. Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Niemi, Richard G. and Kent Jennings, M.. 1991. “Issues and Inheritance in the Formation of Party Identification.” American Journal of Political Science 35(4): 970–88.
Nisbett, Erik C., Cooper, Kathryn E., and Kelly Garrett, R.. 2015. “The Partisan Brain: How Dissonant Science Messages Lead Conservatives and Liberals to (Dis)trust Science. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 658: 3666.
Nyhan, Brendan and Reifler, Jason. 2010. “When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions.” Political Behavior 32(2): 303–30.
Price, Vincent, Cappella, Joseph N., and Nir, Lilach. 2002. “Does Disagreement Contribute to More Deliberative Opinion?” Political Communication 19(1): 95112.
Prior, Markus. 2013. “Visual Political Knowledge: A Different Road to Competence?” Journal of Politics (76)1: 4157.
Prior, Markus and Lupia, Arthur. 2008. “Money, Time, and Political Knowledge: Distinguishing Quick Recall and Political Learning Skills.” American Journal of Political Science 52(1): 169–83.
Prior, Markus, Sood, Gaurav, and Khanna, Kabir. 2015. “You Cannot Be Serious: The Impact of Accuracy Incentives on Partisan Bias in Reports of Economic Perceptions.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 10(4): 489518.
Redlawsk, David P., Civettini, Andrew J. W., and Emmerson, Karen M.. 2010. “The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever “Get It”?” Political Psychology 31(4): 563–93.
Schudson, Michael. 1998. The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Skocpol, Theda and Williamson, Vanessa. 2012. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Soss, Joe. 2000. Unwanted Claims: The Politics of Participation in the U.S. Welfare System. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Soss, Joe, Fording, Richard C., and Schram, Sanford F.. 2011. Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Spencer, Steven J., Steele, Claude M., and Quinn, Diane M.. 1999. “Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 35(1): 428.
Steele, Claude and Aronson, Joshua. 1995. “Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69(5): 797811.
Toff, Benjamin. 2016. “The Blind Scorekeepers: Journalism, Polling, and the Battle to Define Public Opinion in American Politics.” Ph.D. diss. Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Van Driel, Jan H., Beijaard, Douwe, and Verloop, Nico. 2001. “Professional Development and Reform in Science Education: The Role of Teachers’ Practical Knowledge.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 38(2): 137–58.
Wyatt, Robert O., Katz, Elihu, and Kim, Joohan. 2000. “Bridging the Spheres: Political and Personal Conversation in Public and Private Spaces.” Journal of Communication 50(1): 7192.
Young, Iris Marion. 2000. Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zaller, John R. 2012. “What Nature and Origins Leaves Out.” Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society 24(4): 569642.

The Fact of Experience: Rethinking Political Knowledge and Civic Competence

  • Katherine J. Cramer and Benjamin Toff

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed