Civic Literacy for Electoral Reform: Holly Ann Garnett (Royal Military College), André Blais (Université de Montréal) Abstract: Canada has experienced a string of failed electoral reform proposals in recent years. From the 2015 Liberal election promise of electoral system reform, to referendums in PEI, Ontario and British Columbia. After each failed attempt, commentators blamed the failure of these referendums on poor education campaigns. Uninformed citizens, it is argued, cannot make competent decisions on the complicated issue of electoral reform. In Canada’s experiences with electoral reform plebiscites, the provincial election management body (EMB) was tasked with the massive project of educating the public on possible new electoral systems, but were criticized for failing to adequately ensure that the public was informed on the possible options on the ballot.
How should citizens be educated about complicated political issues like electoral reform? Are there basic principles that should be followed? This project tests one potential principle for government bodies, the media and educators to follow when conducting information campaigns: namely, the literacy levels of political information. Educators have long argued that texts can be confusing when written at a literacy level higher than the reader is able to digest. This project tests the impact of literacy levels on information levels, knowledge or understanding, interest and opinions of electoral reform. It employs an experimental design with Ontario college students, which asks the students to read texts on a new electoral system and answer a series of questions on the proposal. The results provide an assessment of the impact of different levels of information on understanding, interest and knowledge of electoral reform.
How Attribute Frames Work: Attribute Frames as Rational Information Sources: Mackenzie Lockhart (University of California, San Diego) Abstract: Attribute frames are seen as important tools used to shape public opinion, but little past research has looked at the mechanisms underlying them. I propose a new theory for understanding attribute frames that suggests they are rational sources of information to help decision-makers evaluate political issues. Faced with many attributes that a person might turn to in evaluating an issue, frames help people develop internal schemas to make those decisions. Using a survey experiment with a novel measure aimed at capturing these schemas, I hope to show that frames act as rational shortcuts. Further, I intend to show that this understanding of frames has important downstream implications by showing that members of the public internalize frames and repeat them in their own political communications. Using the same survey experiment, I hope to show that individuals who have been exposed to an attribute frame from a trusted source will use the same frame when asked to communicate about an issue. This research will aim to connect framing with the literature on polarization to show how polarization might make individuals' opinions less subject to change, even when they have conversations with people of different opinions on the issue.
Anti-Elitism, Anti-Intellectualism, and Motivated Resistance to Expert Consensus: Eric Merkley (University of British Columbia) Abstract: Public opinion is far apart from experts on a wide range of issues. The dominant explanation of this is ideologically-driven motivated skepticism. However, this is not a sufficient explanation for less salient and politically charged questions. I argue that more attention needs to be placed on anti-intellectualism. Using a survey of 3,600 Americans, this paper identifies two primary dimensions of anti-intellectualism using principle components analysis: generalized and political mistrust. Both of these dimensions are strongly associated with support for scientific positions on climate change, nuclear power, GMOs, and water fluoridation, above and beyond ideology. An embedded survey experiment also shows that anti-intellectualism moderates the acceptance of messages related to scientific agreement where such messages produce a backfire effect among those most mistrusting of experts. Finally, the paper explores a link between populism and anti-intellectualism. It shows that populism is strongly associated with both dimensions of anti-intellectualism, and with an experiment it demonstrates that populist rhetoric can activate anti-intellectual predispositions in the processing of expert messages. These findings suggest that rising anti-elite rhetoric may make anti-intellectual predispositions more salient for information processing.
The Effects of Opinion Polls and Party Standings on Political Information Seeking: Jason Roy (Wilfrid Laurier University), Patrick Fournier (Université de Montréal), Shane Singh (University of Georgia / Harvard Kennedy School) Abstract: Pre-election polls have become increasingly prominent during national elections, but how they affect voting behavior remains unclear. Departing from the typical focus on polls’ effects on vote choice, we examine how polls affect citizens’ engagement with political information. Our expectation is that exposure to polls decreases the extent to which individuals seek out political information. To test our assumption, we draw upon original data collected from experiments conducted in six countries across a five-year period to estimate the causal effect of poll exposure. In addition to assessing how exposure to polls broadly affects information seeking, we also test whether individuals' information searches vary according to the relative standings of the parties in the race. Our results offer a comprehensive assessment of how poll exposure can alter the way in which individuals engage in an election campaign and the robustness of these findings according to contextual, cultural, and institutional variation.