Bullock on Elite Influence on Public Opinion (American Political Science Review)

A recent article, “Elite Influence on Public Opinion in an Informed Electorate,” by John Bullock appeared in the August issue of the American Political Science Review.

Abstract: An enduring concern about democracies is that citizens conform too readily to the policy views of elites in their own parties, even to the point of ignoring other information about the policies in question. This article presents two experiments that undermine this concern, at least under one important condition. People rarely possess even a modicum of information about policies; but when they do, their attitudes seem to be affected at least as much by that information as by cues from party elites. The experiments also measure the extent to which people think about policy. Contrary to many accounts, they suggest that party cues do not inhibit such thinking. This is not cause for unbridled optimism about citizens’ ability to make good decisions, but it is reason to be more sanguine about their ability to use information about policy when they have it.