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Communication, Influence, and Informational Asymmetries among Voters

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Abstract

The costs of political information vary dramatically across individuals, and these costs help explain why some individuals become politically expert while others demonstrate low levels of political knowledge and awareness. An attractive alternative, particularly for those with high information costs, is to rely on information and advice taken from others who are politically expert. This paper focuses on the complications that arise when the informant and the recipient do not share preferences. A series of small group experiments show that subjects tend to weight expertise more heavily than shared preferences in selecting informants, thereby exposing themselves to diverse views and biased information. Experimental subjects employ several heuristic devices in evaluating the reliability of this information, but depending on their own levels of information, these heuristics often lead subjects either to dismiss advice that conflicts with their own prior judgments or to dismiss advice that comes from an informant with divergent preferences. Hence these heuristics produce important consequences for patterns of political influence, as well as reducing the potential for political change.

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