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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Fall 2009

GOV 381S • Political Sophistication

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
39370 M
7:00 PM-10:00 PM
BAT 1.104
Luskin, R

Course Description

This course is about cognitive engagement in politics—a dimension on which individual citizens vary enormously, from those who are walking New Republics or National Reviews or Guardians or Figaros to those who don't know who the President or Prime Minister is. (There are some.) And this variation matters, in ways we shall explore. Perhaps the broadest variable under this heading is political sophistication (a.k.a. awareness, cognitive complexity, and expertise): a matter of both the quantity and the organization of political cognition (regardless of accuracy). Closely related variables include political information (a matter simply of quantity, regardless of organization or accuracy), knowledge (the quantity of accurate cognition), and misinformation (the quantity of inaccurate cognition). We consider this whole family of variables: how best to measure them, who has how much of them and why, and to what extent and how they flavor political attitudes and behaviors. Many of the readings and much of the discussion will focus on these variables' effects—on the recognition and efficient pursuit of one's interests; on policy and electoral preferences; on attitude extremity and ideology; on persuadability and the kinds of appeals most likely to be persuasive; on the weights given to candidate versus policy factors in voting; etc. Other readings concern the factors making people more or less politically sophisticated, including their cognitive ability, education, interest in politics, participation in political discussion, and news consumption. As this suggests, deliberation, in the conventional sense of serious, open-minded discussion, is among the potential influences on political sophistication, through which many of its other effects implicitly operate. Thus we shall also read about and discuss the Deliberative Polling project, which can be viewed as a quasi-experiment gauging political sophistication’s effects on policy and electoral preferences. While many of the best data and best work are on the U.S., it should be clear that these variables are at play, and their consequences felt in every democratic polity. The course thus straddles American and Comparative Politics, and is listed in both fields. It also draws a great deal from psychology and communication research, relevant to both.


We shall read all or most of the following three books and a large number of articles, listed in the full syllabus, available from me at Delli Carpini, Michael X. and Scott Keeter. 1996. What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven: Yale University Press. Nie, Norman H., Jane Junn, and Kenneth Stehlik-Barry. 1996. Education and Democratic Citi-zenship in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Zaller, John R. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge Uni-versity Press.


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