Communication Political Knowledge
by
Lindsay Hoffman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0098

Introduction

Political knowledge is one of the primary variables in political communication research. In the United States, as well as other democratic nations, the study of political knowledge is rooted in democratic theory, which suggests that citizens should be informed if they are to participate in a democratic society. Political knowledge is also sometimes referred to as political sophistication or political expertise, but knowledge is generally defined as holding correct information—whether that is civic, issue, or candidate information, or the structural relationships among cognitions. Scholars often examine political knowledge as a dependent variable—for example, by examining media effects on political knowledge—but knowledge can also be examined as a predictor, moderator, or mediator in a variety of communication relationships. In this sense, political knowledge may lead to political discussion, or it may moderate the relationship between media use and political participation. However, just as general knowledge cannot be directly measured—rather, it is assessed via test scores or grades—political knowledge is directly immeasurable. In other words, the content of political knowledge, generally, cannot be fully captured in a series of test questions. For that reason, scholars often conceptualize political knowledge in varying ways. However, scholars have come to agree on some measures of political knowledge as good representations of the information citizens must have to participate fully in a democratic society.

Data Sources

A number of organizations regularly test political knowledge among Americans. The following sources measure several variations of political knowledge (see Conceptualizations) as well as variables commonly found in studies of media effects and political communication, such as media use and political participation. For data over several decades with the same measurement, scholars often turn to the American National Election Studies. For more detailed and variable measurements of knowledge, the National Annenberg Election Survey and Pew Research Center offer a variety of publicly available data sets.

Core Texts

Several textbooks and numerous articles and book chapters provide good overviews of the measure of political knowledge, as well as trends in political knowledge over time, in the United States. These texts employ a variety of ways to assess how much information is required to be a citizen in a democracy.

History

Scholars have wrestled with the measurement and analysis of political knowledge in communication, political science, and other social sciences. Some important historical works that would add depth to course readings or a literature review include Becker, et al. 1975; Downs 1957; Tichenor, et al. 1970; and Galston 2001, which provide an overview of the history of the concept. An important component of the history of studying political knowledge addresses knowledge gaps, or the gaps in knowledge between those with high socioeconomic status and those with low socioeconomic status. Tichenor, et al. 1970 and Eveland and Scheufele 2000 provide a good starting point for this area of study.

  • Becker, L. B., M. E. McCombs, and J. M. McLeod. 1975. The development of political cognitions. In Political communication: Issues and strategies for research. Edited by S. H. Chaffee, 21–63. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

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    This chapter provides a good historical perspective on the measurement of political knowledge and specifically how it fits into communication research on agenda-setting.

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    • Downs, A. 1957. An economic theory of democracy. New York: Harper & Row.

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      This important work informs much of the later political science work on the rational choice model, which suggests people try to obtain information at the lowest cost to themselves. This book provides a systemic perspective on the presence and absence of knowledge in a democracy.

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      • Eveland, W. P., Jr., and D. A. Scheufele. 2000. Connecting news media use with gaps in knowledge and participation. Political Communication 17.3: 215–237.

        DOI: 10.1080/105846000414250Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        This well-cited work demonstrated that, in the context of a presidential election, knowledge gaps between higher and lower education groups were greater among light than heavy users of television news.

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        • Galston, W. A. 2001. Political knowledge, political engagement, and civic education. Annual Review of Political Science 4:217–234.

          DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.4.1.217Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          This overview provides insights on the historical importance of political knowledge and its relationship to democracy. It would serve as a good introduction for graduate students.

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          • Tichenor, P. J., G. A. Donohue, and C. N. Olien. 1970. Mass media flow and differential growth in knowledge. Public Opinion Quarterly 34.2: 159–170.

            DOI: 10.1086/267786Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            This is the seminal article that introduces the knowledge gap hypothesis, which suggests that the information-rich get richer when they consume media, while the information-poor get poorer. This is necessary reading for any media-effects scholar interested in the varying effects of media on knowledge.

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            Meaning

            There are generally two approaches to understanding political knowledge: information holding versus more nuanced meanings that address news consumption as well as the assumption that reasoned choice requires information holding. Regarding the former perspective, scholars have examined years’ worth of data to determine how citizens’ political knowledge has changed over time. In this area, Bennett 1989; Bennett, et al. 1996; and Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996 provide excellent overviews of Americans’ knowledge. Bennett and colleagues conclude that citizens’ political knowledge remained much the same over the last half of the 20th century. Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996 is cited as the originator of the five commonly accepted “civic knowledge” question items included in many surveys today (see Civic Knowledge). On the other end of the spectrum, Lupia and McCubbins 1998 and Graber 2001 challenge the idea that simple information holding is the best measure of political knowledge. Neuman, et al. 1992 as well as Neuman 1986 alert readers to some of the nuances of presuming knowledge upon citizens and how citizens construct meaning from news. Moreover, Kenski 2000 suggests that measures of political knowledge may be biased by gendered responses. Others, like Schudson 1999, challenge the normative notion that citizens should be “monitorial” and “rights-bearing” citizens who are watchful but not necessarily knowledgeable on all things political.

            • Bennett, S. E. 1989. Trends in Americans’ political information, 1967–1987. American Politics Research 17.4: 422–435.

              DOI: 10.1177/004478089017004005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              This oft-cited study examines decades of public opinion data and concludes that, despite gains in education, American citizens’ political knowledge has not generally increased over time. It would be useful as background for a graduate-level course.

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              • Bennett, S. E., R. S. Flickinger, J. R. Baker, S. L. Rhine, and L. L. M. Bennett. 1996. Citizens’ knowledge of foreign affairs. International Journal of Press/Politics 1.2: 10–29.

                DOI: 10.1177/1081180X96001002003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                This article looks closely at citizens in five Western democracies, concluding that Germans have the most knowledge about foreign affairs, while Americans have the least.

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                • Delli Carpini, M. X., and S. Keeter. 1996. What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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                  Similar to Bennett 1989, this book demonstrates that Americans haven’t increased their knowledge much over time. These authors also conclude that there are knowledge differences among education levels, race, gender, media use, political discussion, and political interest. This is a necessary component of any library on political knowledge and would be useful in an undergraduate or graduate class.

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                  • Graber, D. A. 2001. Processing politics: Learning from television in the Internet age. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

                    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226924762.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    For scholars interested in media effects, this important text examines how television and visual media can be used to transmit information effectively and how citizens tend to learn from these media. This book should be on the shelves of any scholar studying media and political knowledge. Graber goes into great detail about why traditional theories about what citizens should and do know are flawed and provides new ways of thinking about political knowledge. Appropriate for advanced undergraduate or graduate students.

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                    • Kenski, K. 2000. Women and political knowledge during the 2000 primaries. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 572.1: 26–28.

                      DOI: 10.1177/0002716200572001005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Kenski concludes that women are more likely to give “do not know” responses to knowledge questions, while men are more likely to guess, thus biasing the results that come from such tests.

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                      • Lupia, A., and M. D. McCubbins. 1998. The democratic dilemma: Can citizens learn what they need to know? New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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                        These authors argue that reasoned choice does not require full information; rather, it requires what they define as knowledge: the ability to predict the consequences of actions. This would serve as a useful framework for a course on political knowledge for advanced undergraduate students.

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                        • Neuman, W. R. 1986. The paradox of mass politics: Knowledge and opinion in the American electorate. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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                          Neuman suggests that the lack of political knowledge among American citizens does not reflect the expectation of an informed citizenry put forth in democratic theory. The book covers several theories as to why this is so. The book would be a thoughtful reading to encourage discussion among advanced undergraduate as well as graduate students.

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                          • Neuman, W. R., M. R. Just, and A. N. Crigler. 1992. Common knowledge: News and the construction of political meaning. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                            This volume examines the difference between textbook (or civic) knowledge and issue knowledge, as well as the effects of media use on different types of knowledge. A good introductory overview that alerts the reader to the nuances of studying political knowledge.

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                            • Schudson, M. 1999. The good citizen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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                              This historical account of citizenship in America concludes that citizens may not need to possess political knowledge in ways that democracy theorists have often assumed. Rather, citizens should be “monitorial,” engaging in environment surveillance rather than constant information gathering.

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                              Attitude Change and Information Processing

                              Political communication research has for several decades been informed by both attitude-change as well as information-processing perspectives. Many scholars rely on studies of attitude change (Festinger 1957; Hovland, et al. 1953), while others work from models of information processing (Chaiken, et al. 1989; Collins and Loftus 1975; Fiske and Taylor 1984; Higgins 1996; Popkin 1994; Wyer and Srull 1986). These works inform our understanding of how information translates into knowledge or information holding. In another line of research, scholars have examined how selective exposure to like-minded information might inhibit political knowledge; Garrett 2009 explores this phenomenon online and suggests that selective exposure may not contribute significantly to political knowledge.

                              • Chaiken, S., A. Liberman, and A. H. Eagly. 1989. Heuristic and systematic processing within and beyond the persuasion context. In Unintended thought. Edited by J. Uleman and J. Bargh, 212–252. New York: Guilford.

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                                Provides an explanation of this dual-processing model, whereby people either use heuristics in decision making or systematically process information.

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                                • Collins, A. M., and E. F. Loftus. 1975. A spreading-activation theory of semantic processing. Psychological Review 82.6: 407–428.

                                  DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.82.6.407Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  This seminal work in information processing describes that when a concept is activated, activation spreads outward to different nodes in one’s mental network. This activation decreases with time or interruption, and the more properties concepts have in common, the more links they will share.

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                                  • Festinger, L. 1957. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson.

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                                    Festinger introduces the theory of cognitive dissonance, which suggests that humans have an innate desire to hold harmonious attitudes and beliefs while avoiding those that are dissonant. This theory has driven much of the research on attitude change and has implications for the study of political knowledge. For instance, if citizens selectively expose themselves to information that is consistent with their own views, will they learn more (see Garrett 2009)?

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                                    • Fiske, S. T., and S. E. Taylor. 1984. Social categories and schemas. In Social cognition. Edited by S. T. Fiske and S. E. Taylor, 96–141. New York: Random House.

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                                      Fiske and Taylor in chapter 4 define schemas as a cognitive network of representations and knowledge and discuss how these concepts interrelate.

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                                      • Garrett, R. K. 2009. Echo chambers online? Politically motivated selective exposure among Internet news users. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14.2: 265–285.

                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01440.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Garrett reviews the literature arguing that selective exposure drives information seeking (and, in turn, knowledge) by examining effects of exposure to opinion-congruent and opinion-incongruent information.

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                                        • Higgins, E. T. 1996. Knowledge activation: Accessibility, applicability, and salience. In Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles. Edited by E. T. Higgins and A. W. Kruglanski, 133–167. New York: Guilford.

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                                          Higgins defines various concepts associated with knowledge activation such as availability (whether or not some particular knowledge is actually stored in memory) and accessibility (activation potential of available knowledge). Detailed explanations of related processes such as priming and salience are also provided.

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                                          • Hovland, C. I., I. L. Janis, and H. H. Kelley. 1953. Communication and persuasion: Psychological studies of opinion change. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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                                            This work exposes the differences between one-sided (only positive information is given) versus two-sided (a source discloses both positive and negative information) appeals. This informs research on political knowledge because two-sided messages might lead people to feel their attitudes are based on more complete knowledge.

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                                            • Popkin, S. L. 1994. The reasoning voter: Communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. 2d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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                                              Presents a theory of “low-information rationality” and contends that factual knowledge alone cannot capture the nuanced ways in which citizens use heuristics and shortcuts to make sense of the political world.

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                                              • Wyer, R. S., and T. K. Srull. 1986. Human cognition in its social context. Psychological Review 93.3: 322–359.

                                                DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.93.3.322Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                The authors define cognition as an interrelated system of storage bins and processing units. They propose the “heuristic postulate,” which suggests that no more information is retrieved in attaining a processing objective than is sufficient to allow the information to be attained. When this minimal amount has been retrieved, the search terminates. The “recency postulate” proposes that an information search proceeds from top-down (how recently it was placed in the bin).

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                                                Conceptualizations

                                                Political knowledge can be conceptualized in three distinct ways: Civic Knowledge, Issue Knowledge, and Structural Knowledge. Each conceptualization offers different measurement techniques as well as different implications for what makes an informed citizenry.

                                                Civic Knowledge

                                                Civic knowledge generally refers to what is sometimes called “textbook knowledge” (Becker, et al. 1975; Galston 2001). The underlying argument is that unless citizens have a basic level of civic knowledge about political institutions and processes, they will have difficulty understanding political events. Having discovered that across surveys, scholars had been measuring political knowledge in thousands of different ways, the authors of Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996 helped to establish what is today considered the most valid and reliable measure of political civic knowledge. Civic knowledge has been demonstrated to positively influence support for democratic values, tolerance, attitude consistency, and political participation. Yet some scholars, in works such as Sotirovic and McLeod 2004, suggest moving beyond these measures of civic knowledge in an attempt to understand how citizens make sense of politics.

                                                • Becker, L. B., M. E. McCombs, and J. M. McLeod. 1975. The development of political cognitions. In Political communication: Issues and strategies for research. Edited by S. H. Chaffee, 21–63. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

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                                                  The authors outline a brief history of measuring “information holding,” what can be interpreted as civic knowledge.

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                                                  • Delli Carpini, M. X., and S. Keeter. 1996. What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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                                                    This is arguably the most-cited work regarding measurement of political knowledge. Hundreds of works cite this book for its five items that constitute a reliable political knowledge scale. The scale has strong relationships with other known correlates, such as political behavior and voting. The items ask what job is held by the current vice president, who determines a law’s constitutionality, what majority is required to override a presidential veto, which party controls the House, and which party is conservative.

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                                                    • Galston, W. A. 2001. Political knowledge, political engagement, and civic education. Annual Review of Political Science 4.1: 217–234.

                                                      DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.4.1.217Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      This article provides an excellent summary of the main findings associated with research on civic knowledge. It also covers issues associated with civic education and political socialization.

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                                                      • Sotirovic, M., and J. M. McLeod. 2004. Knowledge as understanding: The information processing approach to political learning. In Handbook of political communication research. Edited by L. L. Kaid, 357–394. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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                                                        The authors suggest moving beyond factual knowledge and focusing on how citizens understand and make sense of politics.

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                                                        Issue Knowledge

                                                        Much of the research on political knowledge defined as issue knowledge focuses on either knowledge of political stances of candidates and politicians or knowledge of the candidates themselves (such as where they were born). Some scholars suggest that such issue knowledge is more susceptible to interpretation or debate, which means that the effects of media use on this type of knowledge result in unclear findings (Feldman and Price 2008). Patterson and McClure 1976 calls this “information awareness,” which can capture the amount of information citizens obtain in the context of a campaign. Benoit and Hansen 2004 examines issue knowledge as well as issue “salience” that results from watching presidential debates. A related arena of study suggests that “issue publics” learn more about topics to which they are attentive (Converse 1964). Kim 2009 extends this idea to the current interactive media environment.

                                                        • Benoit, W. L., and G. J. Hansen. 2004. Presidential debate watching, issue knowledge, character evaluation, and vote choice. Human Communication Research 30.1: 121–144.

                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2004.tb00727.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Benoit and Hansen do a good job of summarizing the literature on debate effects on issue knowledge, demonstrating that voters do seem to learn about issues from debates. The article also differentiates between issue “salience” and issue “knowledge,” the former being a measure that lists respondents’ reasons for liking a candidate.

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                                                          • Converse, P. E. 1964. The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In Ideology and discontent. Edited by D. E. Apter, 206–261. New York: Free Press.

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                                                            Converse suggests that issue publics are more attentive to particular issues and topics and learn more about them, despite what they might score on a general political knowledge scale.

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                                                            • Feldman, L., and V. Price. 2008. Confusion or enlightenment? How exposure to disagreement moderates the effects of political discussion and media use on candidate knowledge. Communication Research 35.1: 61–87.

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                                                              This article defines issue knowledge as knowledge of issue stances among candidates in a debate.

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                                                              • Kim, Y. M. 2009. Issue publics in the new information environment: Selectivity, domain specificity, and extremity. Communication Research 36.2: 254–284.

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                                                                Kim explores selectivity in the online political environment and concludes that issue publics are more likely to be selective and, therefore, more extreme in attitudes and voting behaviors.

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                                                                • Patterson, T. E., and R. D. McClure. 1976. The unseeing eye: The myth of television power in national politics. New York: Putnam.

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                                                                  An important historical work that received both accolades and criticism upon its release. Patterson and McClure propose a measure of “information awareness” to capture more recently acquired knowledge in the context of a political campaign.

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                                                                  Structural Knowledge

                                                                  W. P. Eveland and colleagues have been leading the charge for scholars to examine yet another type of political knowledge: structural knowledge. This type of knowledge refers to how factual information is organized in one’s mind, such as through schemas and ideologies. Theoretical frameworks for this measure can be found in Jonassen, et al. 1993; Eveland, et al. 2003; and Eveland, et al. 2004. Eveland and Hively 2009 demonstrates that structural knowledge is affected by political discussion.

                                                                  • Eveland, W. P., Jr., and M. H. Hively. 2009. Political discussion frequency, network size, and “heterogeneity” of discussion as predictors of political knowledge and participation. Journal of Communication 59.2: 205–224.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01412.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Findings suggest that frequency of political discussion can positively impact both factual (or civic) political knowledge as well as knowledge structure density (see Eveland, et al. 2004).

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                                                                    • Eveland, W. P., Jr., K. Marton, and M. Seo. 2004. Moving beyond “just the facts”: The influence of online news on the content and structure of public affairs knowledge. Communication Research 31.1: 82–108.

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                                                                      The authors define “knowledge structure density,” which is the extent to which people see connections among political concepts such as issues, individuals, and organizations.

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                                                                      • Eveland, W. P., Jr., D. V. Shah, and N. Kwak. 2003. Assessing causality in the cognitive mediation model. Communication Research 30.4: 359–386.

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                                                                        Here the authors make the case for examining measures of knowledge beyond simple recognition and recall to examine structural knowledge. Such a measure extends what we know about declarative and procedural knowledge by examining how this knowledge is interconnected.

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                                                                        • Jonassen, D. H., K. Beissner, and M. Yacci. 1993. Structural knowledge: Techniques for representing, conveying, and acquiring structural knowledge. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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                                                                          Rooted in schema theory and spreading activation theory, this book provides the conceptual bases for knowing why something occurs. In this definition, structural knowledge describes how declarative knowledge (knowing that) is interconnected.

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                                                                          Media Effects

                                                                          Research demonstrates that political knowledge has been consistently linked to news media use; however, this varies depending on the medium of study. Television news has been found to be positively related to knowledge, especially among those who have generally lower levels of education (see Tichenor, et al. 1970, cited under History). However, the relationship between television news use and political knowledge is not as strong as that between newspaper use and political knowledge. More recent research examines effects of new and nontraditional media on political knowledge, such as political satire and the Internet. Other works examine the nature of media and how they might inhibit or encourage learning.

                                                                          Traditional Media

                                                                          The relationship between newspaper use and knowledge is well documented. Becker, et al. 1975; Chaffee and Kanihan 1997; and Graber 2010 provide reviews of this robust finding. Chaffee, et al. 1994 extends this research to suggest that traditional media can serve to close existing knowledge gaps, while Jerit, et al. 2006 suggests that examining knowledge at a structural or aggregate level can lead to different conclusions about knowledge gaps. Eveland 2001 and Kosicki and McLeod 1990 examine the role that attitudes about media as well as gratifications sought can predict knowledge gain from traditional media.

                                                                          • Becker, L. B., M. E. McCombs, and J. M. McLeod. 1975. The development of political cognitions. In Political communication: Issues and strategies for research. Edited by S. H. Chaffee, 21–63. Beverly Hills: SAGE.

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                                                                            The authors review the history of the literature at the time on the effects of media use on political cognitions.

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                                                                            • Chaffee, S., and S. F. Kanihan. 1997. Learning about politics from the mass media. Political Communication 14.4: 421–430.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/105846097199218Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              Provides a succinct review of the literature supporting the newspaper-knowledge relationship, suggesting that the newspaper is more likely to close knowledge gaps than television news. Also discusses the variable influence of television and campaign advertising on political knowledge.

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                                                                              • Chaffee, S. H., X. Zhao, and G. Leshner. 1994. Political knowledge and the campaign media of 1992. Communication Research 21.3: 305–324.

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                                                                                A classic study that demonstrates the positive and significant relationship between newspaper use and political knowledge.

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                                                                                • de Vreese, C. H., and H. Boomgaarden. 2006. News, political knowledge and participation: The differential effects of news media exposure on political knowledge and participation. Acta Politica 41.4: 317–341.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.ap.5500164Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  A cross-national study concludes that news media use that includes more political content has “virtuous” effects on political knowledge, while programming that features less political content offers little to no positive effects.

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                                                                                  • Eveland, W. P., Jr. 2001. The cognitive mediation model of learning from the news: Evidence from nonelection, off-year election, and presidential election contexts. Communication Research 28.5: 571–601.

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                                                                                    This article introduces the cognitive mediation model, which is supported in subsequent literature. The basic argument here is that individuals must want to learn from the news (measured through gratifications sought) in order to actually learn from the news and increase their political knowledge.

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                                                                                    • Graber, D. A. 2010. Media influence on attitudes and behavior. In Mass media and American politics. Edited by D. A. Graber, 159–192. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

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                                                                                      This chapter, in the overall great introductory text on politics and mass media, focuses specifically on media effects on knowledge as well as attitudes and behavior. Graber succinctly describes the debate over measurement of knowledge and the limitations on initial learning and remembering on the part of citizens.

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                                                                                      • Jerit, J., J. Barabas, and T. Bolsen. 2006. Citizens, knowledge, and the information environment. American Journal of Political Science 50.2: 266–282.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00183.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        This innovative work examines whether the relationship between socioeconomic status and political knowledge varies across political issues that receive differing levels of media attention. Results suggest that the broader information environment might lead to different (less pessimistic) conclusions about how much political knowledge people have than research conducted solely at the individual level.

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                                                                                        • Kosicki, G. M., and J. M. McLeod. 1990. Learning from political news: Effects of media images and information-processing strategies. In Mass communication and political information processing. Edited by S. Kraus, 69–83. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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                                                                                          This piece proposes a fruitful area of research in examining knowledge acquisition via the moderating role of “media orientations.” The authors propose that individuals possess theories about how the news media operate, and these theories inform how and to what extent people scrutinize and encode information.

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                                                                                          New Media Environments

                                                                                          In addition to traditional media such as newspapers and television, a growing body of literature is examining other ways in which citizens can obtain political knowledge. Specifically, Internet use can be found to contribute to political knowledge (Kenski and Stroud 2006, Xenos and Moy 2007), while political entertainment, such as The Daily Show, can also contribute to political knowledge (Young and Tisinger 2006, Young and Hoffman 2012). Garrett 2011 warns, however, that certain types of information sharing online can lead to increased belief in nonfactual information.

                                                                                          • Garrett, R. K. 2011. Troubling consequences of online political rumoring. Human Communication Research 37.2: 255–274.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2010.01401.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Garrett concludes that rumoring on the Internet does not threaten political knowledge, but rumors circulated via email do have the potential to increase beliefs of rumors (and, as such, decrease knowledge).

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                                                                                            • Kenski, K., and N. J. Stroud. 2006. Connections between Internet use and political efficacy, knowledge, and participation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 50.2: 173–192.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1207/s15506878jobem5002_1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              In examining Internet use in the context of the 2000 presidential campaign, the authors conclude that the Internet contributes to political knowledge above and beyond other news media use variables.

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                                                                                              • Xenos, M., and P. Moy. 2007. Direct and differential effects of the Internet on political and civic engagement. Journal of Communication 57.4: 704–718.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00364.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                The authors conclude that Internet use directly impacts political knowledge.

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                                                                                                • Young, D. G., and L. H. Hoffman. 2012. Acquisition of current events knowledge from political satire programming: An experimental approach. Atlantic Journal of Communication 20:290–304.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/15456870.2012.728121Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  This experimental study builds on existing research to demonstrate that political satire exposure resulted in comparable knowledge gains to news exposure.

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                                                                                                  • Young, D. G., and R. Tisinger. 2006. Dispelling late-night myths: News consumption among late-night comedy viewers and the predictors of exposure to various late-night shows. International Journal of Press/Politics 11.3: 113–134.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1177/1081180X05286042Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Contrary to prior research, the authors conclude that young people watch political satire in addition to, rather than instead of, consuming more traditional news.

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                                                                                                    Moderators and Mediators

                                                                                                    An increasingly interesting technique for examining the effects of a variety of communication variables on political knowledge has entailed moderation or mediation. For instance, David 2009 (cited under Evidence for Effects) concludes that the need for cognition moderates the effect of media use on political knowledge. Others have found that political discussion plays an important moderating role between media use and knowledge.

                                                                                                    Statistical Techniques and Background

                                                                                                    A moderator is a variable that alters the strength of the causal relationship between a predictor variable and a dependent variable. Mediation, on the other hand, exists when a predictor variable affects a dependent variable indirectly through at least one intervening variable or mediator. Baron and Kenny 1986 and Preacher and Hayes 2008 provide detailed explanations of these types of effects.

                                                                                                    • Baron, R. M., and D. A. Kenny. 1986. The moderator–mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51.6: 1173–1182.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.51.6.1173Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                      This is the go-to resource for detailed statistical and conceptual information about moderators and mediators.

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                                                                                                      • Preacher, K. J., and A. F. Hayes. 2008. Contemporary approaches to assessing mediation in communication research. In The SAGE sourcebook of advanced data analysis methods for communication research. Edited by A. F. Hayes, M. D. Slater, and L. B. Snyder, 13–54. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.4135/9781452272054.n2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        Provides a detailed overview of how to assess mediation in communication research.

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                                                                                                        Evidence for Effects

                                                                                                        Both moderation and mediation effects have been demonstrated in the literature on political knowledge. David 2009 concludes that the need for cognition (developed in Cacioppo and Petty 1982) moderates the effect of media use on political knowledge. Political discussion also serves as a moderator between media use and knowledge (Eveland 2004, Hardy and Scheufele 2009, Nisbet and Scheufele 2004). An example of how feelings toward the news mediate the relationship between gender and political knowledge can be found in Nash and Hoffman 2009. Eveland, et al. 2005 addresses the important question of causality between different types of communication and political knowledge.

                                                                                                        • Cacioppo, J. T., and R. E. Petty. 1982. The need for cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 42.1: 116–131.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.42.1.116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          The need for cognition is the extent to which people engage in and enjoy effortful cognition. This is a well-established moderator of the relationship between media use and political knowledge.

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                                                                                                          • David, C. C. 2009. Learning political information from the news: A closer look at the role of motivation. Journal of Communication 59.2: 243–261.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01414.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            David concludes that individual motivations can moderate the effects of media use on political knowledge, including the need for cognition (see Cacioppo and Petty 1982).

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                                                                                                            • Eveland, W. P., Jr. 2004. The effect of political discussion in producing informed citizens: The roles of information, motivation, and elaboration. Political Communication 21.2: 177–193.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/10584600490443877Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                              Eveland suggests that mere exposure to political information through interpersonal contact is not enough to influence political knowledge. Anticipated or actual discussion (through elaboration) is an important mediator of this relationship.

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                                                                                                              • Eveland, W. P., Jr., A. Hayes, D. Shah, and N. Kwak. 2005. Understanding the relationship between communication and political knowledge: A model comparison approach using panel data. Political Communication 22.4: 423–446.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1080/10584600500311345Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                In testing the causal direction of media use and political knowledge, the authors conclude that both mass and interpersonal communication contribute to political knowledge rather than the other way around, and the impact of prior communication is indirect through current levels of communication.

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                                                                                                                • Hardy, B. W., and D. A. Scheufele. 2009. Presidential campaign dynamics and the ebb and flow of talk as a moderator: Media exposure, knowledge, and political discussion. Communication Theory 19.1: 89–101.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2008.01334.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  Hardy and Scheufele examine political discussion as a moderator between media use and political issue knowledge, finding that increased discussion results in a decrease in knowledge.

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                                                                                                                  • Nash, J., and L. H. Hoffman. 2009. Explaining the gap: The interaction of gender and news enjoyment in predicting political knowledge. Communication Research Reports 26.2: 114–122.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/08824090902861556Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    To explain the differences between men and women in political knowledge, the authors examine gratifications as an explanatory mechanism between gender and political knowledge.

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                                                                                                                    • Nisbet, M. C., and D. A. Scheufele. 2004. Political talk as a catalyst for online citizenship. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 81.4: 877–896.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1177/107769900408100410Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      This study demonstrates that the effects of Internet use on political knowledge are moderated by interpersonal discussion.

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                                                                                                                      Measuring Political Knowledge

                                                                                                                      How to go about measuring political knowledge is often debated (see the different conceptualizations of political knowledge in the subsections under Conceptualizations). Although there are many different ways to define and operationalize political knowledge, the following resources provide good overviews and guides for including political knowledge measures in surveys and experiments. The civic knowledge scale can be found in Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996, while other measures can be found in Galston 2001 and Price 1999. Problems associated with measurement are discussed in Hoffman and Young 2011; Price and Neijens 1998; and Krosnick, et al. 2008.

                                                                                                                      • Delli Carpini, M. X., and S. Keeter. 1996. What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                        The source for the traditional political knowledge scale.

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                                                                                                                        • Galston, W. A. 2001. Political knowledge, political engagement, and civic education. Annual Review of Political Science 4.1: 217–234.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.4.1.217Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Galston provides an overview of measuring political knowledge.

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                                                                                                                          • Hoffman, L. H., and D. G. Young. 2011. Political communication survey research: Challenges, trends, and opportunities. In The sourcebook for political communication research: Methods, measures, and analytical techniques. Edited by E. Bucy and R. L. Holbert, 55–77. New York: Routledge.

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                                                                                                                            This chapter includes a section about the pitfalls of measuring political knowledge in survey research, along with other common political communication variables.

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                                                                                                                            • Krosnick, J. A., A. Lupia, M. DeBell, and D. Donakowski. 2008. Problems with ANES questions measuring political knowledge. Ann Arbor, MI: ANES.

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                                                                                                                              The authors outline problems associated with the way in which the American National Election Studies (ANES) measures political knowledge. They conclude that ANES coding of answers to quiz questions may understate the true levels of knowledge in the years 1986–2000. They propose better coding methods.

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                                                                                                                              • Price, V. 1999. Political information. In Measures of political attitudes. Edited by J. P. Robinson, P. R. Shaver, and L. S. Wrightsman, 591–639. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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                                                                                                                                Price describes the various measures used to assess political information holding and knowledge and provides an overview of how these scales have been used in the literature.

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                                                                                                                                • Price, V. E., and P. C. Neijens. 1998. Deliberative polls: Toward improved measures of “informed” public opinion? International Journal of Public Opinion Research 10.2: 145–176.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/10.2.145Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  The authors identify various approaches for measuring public opinion, emphasizing that educational or deliberative polls may counter some of the methodological problems in assessing public opinion.

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                                                                                                                                  Related Concepts

                                                                                                                                  Political knowledge can sometimes be confused with concepts such as political sophistication, political awareness, or political expertise. In related disciplines, such as political science and psychology, parallel conversations have defined concepts closely related to political knowledge. For instance, Luskin 1987 defines “political sophistication” as the quantity and organization of a person’s political cognitions. Guo and Moy 1998 conceptualizes political sophistication as a larger concept that includes political knowledge. Zaller 1992 and Price and Zaller 1993 refer to this organization of cognitions as “political awareness,” while “expertise” (Converse 1964), “conceptual differentiation” and “integration” (Neuman 1981), and “integrative complexity” (Suedfeld and Tetlock 1977, Tetlock 1993) refer to similar concepts. For the most part, these terms have been more commonly used in the political science, sociology, and psychology literature than in communication.

                                                                                                                                  • Converse, P. E. 1964. The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In Ideology and discontent. Edited by D. E. Apter, 206–261. New York: Free Press.

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                                                                                                                                    Serves as the seminal and oft-cited work on political expertise. Converse found that attitudes of elite respondents were far more structured than those in the mass public.

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                                                                                                                                    • Guo, Z., and P. Moy. 1998. Medium or message? Predicting dimensions of political sophistication. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 10.1: 25–50.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/ijpor/10.1.25Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Some scholars have embraced the term sophistication to include not only knowledge, but also cognitive elaboration, interest, and information-processing strategies.

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                                                                                                                                      • Luskin, R. C. 1987. Measuring political sophistication. American Journal of Political Science 31.4: 856–899.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/2111227Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Luskin explains the history of the term sophistication and links it to earlier research on cognitive complexity. He explains that “expertise” is extensive, organized knowledge, while “sophistication” is a type of political expertise.

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                                                                                                                                        • Neuman, W. R. 1981. Differentiation and integration: Two dimensions of political thinking. American Journal of Sociology 86.6: 1236–1268.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1086/227384Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          This article provides a good definition and overview of the related concept of “conceptual differentiation,” or the number of elements of information an individual utilizes in making evaluations of political issues, and “conceptual integration,” which refers to how these ideas are organized.

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                                                                                                                                          • Price, V., and J. Zaller. 1993. Who gets the news? Alternative measures of news reception and their implications for research. Public Opinion Quarterly 57.2: 133–164.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1086/269363Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            The authors suggest that background political knowledge can predict awareness of current events.

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                                                                                                                                            • Suedfeld, P., and P. E. Tetlock. 1977. Integrative complexity of communications in international crises. Journal of Conflict Resolution 21.1: 169–184.

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                                                                                                                                              This is one piece in a larger body of work outlining integrative complexity. The authors identify integrative complexity as a dimension of information processing that, on one end, is characterized by simple responses and rigidity, while, at the other end, is characterized by complexity and flexibility.

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                                                                                                                                              • Tetlock, P. E. 1993. Cognitive structural analysis of political rhetoric: Methodological and theoretical issues. In Explorations in political psychology. Edited by S. Iyengar and W. J. McGuire, 380–405. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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                                                                                                                                                Applying the concept to speeches and other texts, the authors define “integrative complexity” as a measure of differentiation—the extent to which a text exhibits multiple perspectives or dimensions—and integration—the extent to which the text identifies connections among different perspectives and dimensions.

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                                                                                                                                                • Zaller, J. R. 1992. The nature and origins of mass opinion. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511818691Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  In this oft-cited book, Zaller defines political awareness as the extent to which an individual pays attention to politics and understands that information. He suggests that tests of factual knowledge tap into political awareness. Zaller (and Price and Zaller 1993) finds that people with high levels of preexisting information are more likely to be exposed to and to retain information provided by the media.

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