Political Sophistication and Policy Reasoning: A Reconsideration


  • I thank Peter Bentler, Cotton Casino, Rick Herrera, Jim Jaccard, Tim Johnson, Pat Kenney, David Kimball, George Knight, Kathleen Knight, Howie Lavine, Roger Millsap, Jeff Mondak, Tom Nelson, Paul Sniderman, and the three anonymous reviewers for their comments and assistance on this project. I assume responsibility for any remaining errors.

Paul Goren is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-3902 (paul.goren@asu.edu).


The sophistication-interaction theory of mass policy reasoning, which posits that the strength of the relationship between abstract principles and policy preferences is conditional on political sophistication, dominates the study of public opinion. This article argues that the sophistication-interaction theory does not hold to the degree the consensus claims. Specifically, it challenges the proposition that sophistication promotes the use of domain-specific beliefs and values. Analysis of 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990 NES data yields two compelling findings. First, a series of confirmatory factor analyses indicate that beliefs about equal opportunity, self-reliance, and limited government in the social welfare domain and about militarism and anticommunism in the foreign policy domain are structured coherently and equivalently in the minds of citizens at different levels of sophistication. Second, structural equation model results demonstrate that political sophistication does not systematically enhance the impact these principles have on policy preferences.