Knowing Versus Caring: The Role of Affect and Cognition in Political Perceptions



This paper examines the importance of political knowledge in shaping accurate perceptions of the political world—specifically, how levels of general political knowledge influence the accuracy of specific political judgments, how those judgments might also be shaped by “wishful thinking,” and how political knowledge attenuates the impact of wishful thinking on political judgments. Predictions of who would win the U.S. presidential election in 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996, as surveyed in the National Election Studies conducted in those years, were used as a measure of the accuracy of political perceptions. Analysis of these data reveals that both political knowledge and wishful thinking are important determinants of the accuracy of people's perceptions; in addition, the impact of wishful thinking on perceptions is attenuated by political knowledge.