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Money, Time, and Political Knowledge: Distinguishing Quick Recall and Political Learning Skills


  • We thank the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan and the University Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Princeton University for funding this research. We thank Rick Li, Mike Dennis, Bill McCready, and Vicki Huggins at Knowledge Networks for assistance in programming and implementing the study. We thank Doug Arnold, Larry Bartels, John Brehm, John Bullock, Will Bullock, Michael Delli Carpini, James Druckman, Elisabeth Gerber, Martin Gilens, Jennifer Jerit, Orit Kedar, Jon Krosnick, Yanna Krupnikov, Gabriel Lenz, Adam Levine, Tali Mendelberg, Jesse Menning, Norbert Schwarz, and seminar participants at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting, the American Political Science Association meeting, and Princeton University for helpful advice.

Markus Prior is assistant professor of politics and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, 313 Robertson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544-1013 ( Arthur Lupia is professor of political science, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 426 Thompson Street, 4252 ISR, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 (


Surveys provide widely cited measures of political knowledge. Do seemingly arbitrary features of survey interviews affect their validity? Our answer comes from experiments embedded in a representative survey of over 1200 Americans. A control group was asked political knowledge questions in a typical survey context. Treatment groups received the questions in altered contexts. One group received a monetary incentive for answering the questions correctly. Another was given extra time. The treatments increase the number of correct answers by 11–24%. Our findings imply that conventional knowledge measures confound respondents' recall of political facts with variation in their motivation to exert effort during survey interviews. Our work also suggests that existing measures fail to capture relevant political search skills and, hence, provide unreliable assessments of what many citizens know when they make political decisions. As a result, existing knowledge measures likely underestimate people's capacities for informed decision making.