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Campaign learning and the economy Matthews, John Scott

Abstract

The conventional wisdom is that election campaigns facilitate political learning. According to this so-called 'enlightenment thesis,' the contestation and noise of the campaign supplies voters with both the psychological motivation and informational resources to make better vote choices. In this way, election campaigns can be seen as helping overcome one of the central problems of modern democratic politics: chronically low levels of political knowledge across electorates and profound inequalities of political knowledge within them. This dissertation investigates the enlightenment thesis through analysis of the impact of election campaigns on learning in the domain of the economy. In particular, the dissertation examines campaign period change in, first, the quality of national economic perceptions, and second, the quality of the link between national economic perceptions and vote choice. The analysis proceeds through statistical analysis of survey data collected during ten national election campaigns across four countries (Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The dissertation concludes that there is little evidence of campaign period learning in the domain of the economy. There is no general tendency for the campaign to improve the quality of national economic perceptions or to improve the quality of the link between these perceptions and the vote. Indeed, the campaign is as likely to frustrate as facilitate political learning in the economic domain. Furthermore, there is no general tendency for the campaign to offset pre-existing inequalities either in the quality of national economic perceptions or in the quality of the link between these perceptions and vote choice.

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