Political attitudes : the role of information as a determinant of direction, structure and stability
This thesis explores the relationship between political awareness and engagement and the content and structure of Political Belief Systems. Specifically, the role of information in determining the inter-relatedness, temporal stability and preference direction of political attitudes is evaluated using data from the British General Election Study, the British Household Panel Study and the SCPR Deliberative Poll on Political Issues. The first two chapters provide a review of theorising and research on the political sophistication of the general public, setting this debate within the context of theoretical discussions of democracy. It is argued that perspectives which seek to discount the need for an equitably informed public are both theoretically unsound and empirically unsubstantiated. The empirical chapters of the thesis comprise three inter-related conceptual and empirical investigations. First, the contention that the less politically informed have labile and ephemeral attitudes toward political issues is evaluated using confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling on data from political attitude surveys. In the second section a longitudinal factor model is fitted to panel data in order to examine how the over-time stability of political attitudes is affected by an individual's political awareness. The third section uses deliberative poll data and regression modeling to make a more causally focused appraisal of the effect of information on both the content and structure of political attitude systems. It is concluded that the uneven distribution of political awareness within the general public is the cause of the systematic differences in the properties of the belief systems of the groups examined and that such differences are likely to hinder the attainment of individual and group interests within a modern democratic polity.