Self-Awareness of Political Knowledge


Matthew Graham

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Graham, Matthew H. (2018). Self-Awareness of Political Knowledge. Political Behavior, First Online: September 8, 2018. DOI: 10.1007/s11109-018-9499-8
Despite widespread concern over false beliefs about politically-relevant facts, little is known about how strongly Americans believe their answers to poll questions. I propose a conceptual framework for characterizing survey responses about facts: self-awareness, or how well people can assess their own knowledge. I measure self-awareness of political knowledge by eliciting respondent certainty about answers to 24 factual questions about politics. Even on “unfavorable” facts that are inconvenient to the respondent’s political party, more-certain respondents are more likely to answer correctly. Because people are somewhat aware of their ignorance, respondents usually describe their incorrect responses as low-certainty guesses, not high-certainty beliefs. Where misperceptions exist, they tend to be bipartisan: Democrats and Republicans perform poorly on the same questions and explain their answers using similar points of reference.
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