Too smart for democracy

Cognitive & Motivational Approaches to Party Cues

Yphtach Lelkes with Bert Bakker & Ariel Malka

ISPP July 2016


Cues solve the democratic dilemma

  1. Party cues (The Democrats believe Y; while the Republicans believe Z) are an informational shortcut.
  2. We use party cues as a (rational) way to make up for our shallow knowledge of politics (Popkin, 1994), and, therefore, come to good enough decisions (Lupia, 1994; although see Kuklinski & Quirk, 2000; Lau & Redlawsk).
  3. Bounded Rationality Model: We follow party cues to maximize our material utility.

An updated perspective on cue receptivity

  1. Our party and ideological leanings are indicative of a social identity .
  2. We derive pride and self-esteem from being part of that group.
  3. An identity “functions as a readiness to experience the world in ways that one is told are consistent with the socially prescribed meaning of” that identity (Malka and Lelkes, 2010; e.g., Allen & Wilder, 1977; Cohen 2003; Mackie et al, 1990).
  4. Expressive Utility Model: We follow party cues to maximize our expressive utility.
    • Approach to party cues in line with Kahan 2013; Leeper and Slothuus 2016; Petersen 2013

Who Toe’s The Line and When?

  1. According to the bounded rationality model, cue taking is a function of difficulty, either individual level (Kam, 2005) or context level.
  2. According to the expressive utility model, party cues should matter MORE among those for whom an identity is stronger.
    • Decision difficulty shouldn’t matter
    • Those who are more cognitively able should be more reliant on cues.

Processing Style and Cue Receptivity

  1. “If individuals are adept at using more effortful, System 2 modes of information processing, then they ought to be even better at fitting their beliefs to their group identities. Their capacity to make sense of more complex forms of evidence (including quantitative data) will supply them with a special resource that they can use to fight off counterarguments or to identify what stance to take on technical issues more remote from ones that that figure in the most familiar and accessible public discussions” (Kahan, 2013)

When faced with a party cue:

  1. Main effect hypothesis: People will move towards the position their side supports.
  2. BRM Hypothesis: The difficulty of the task will make cue reliance more likely.
  3. EUM Hypothesis 1: Degree of attachment to a party will make party cues more important.
  4. EUM Hypothesis 2: But only among System 2 processors.

Study 1

Data and Methods

  1. National Sample of 755 Democrats and Republicans
  2. SSI Online Panel
  3. Nationally representative on age and region, slightly more female and democratic than the US average
  4. A 2 x 2 Experiment: Complicated/Simple Framing of an Issue x Republicans/Democrats Support.