Does Political Information Matter? An Experimental Test Relating to Party Positions on Europe



This article focuses on whether the provision of ‘objectively’ correct information to voters about where parties stand on an issue affects their placement of the parties, and ultimately their own position, on that issue. Classic theories of how mass publics make voting decisions assume that voters are able relatively accurately to place themselves and the parties on various issue dimensions. While these assumptions have been challenged, it is generally assumed that the provision of new information makes voters' placements more informed. We explicitly test this idea using a survey experiment focusing on one political issue – European integration. In the experiment, all respondents were twice asked to place the three main British parties and themselves on a bipolar scale of European integration. This was done towards the beginning, and then at the end of the survey. Most respondents were also given information on the ‘informed’ positions of the parties, derived from expert survey placement. Our analyses indicate that individuals' placements did change, and the tendency was related to both political sophistication and the inherent difficulty of placing the party. Only less sophisticated voters updated their placements, and these changes are concentrated on the placement of the Labour party, where the elite stance on Europe has been more conflicted. For all respondents we do not detect any corresponding changes in self-placement that would be congruent with ‘cueing’ effects.