The Journal of Politics

Articles

All Things Considered: Systematic Cognitive Processing and Electoral Decision-making

David C. Barkera1 c1 and Susan B. Hansena2 c2

a1 University of Pittsburgh

a2 University of Pittsburgh

Abstract

This paper seeks to understand what difference it makes if voters systematically consider a representative range of salient criteria before choosing a candidate, and whether the effects of such systematic processing are conditioned by political knowledge. To this end, we executed experiments during the 2000 electoral season that randomly exposed some subjects to an Analytic Hierarchy Processing (AHP) tool, which encourages systematic processing of various orthogonal decision criteria in complex choice environments. We predicted, and found, that the choices of knowledgeable voters exposed to AHP were weaker and less consistent than control group responses, suggesting that systematic processing induces integrative complexity and perhaps “analysis paralysis” among knowledgeable voters. However, we found that among less knowledgeable voters, the opposite pattern generally emerged—AHP exposure was associated with even greater reliance on party ID and ideology cues, perhaps even bolstering predispositions via projection and rationalization.

(Online publication June 02 2003)

(Received March 26 2004)

Correspondence:

c1 David C. Barker (dbarker@pitt.edu) is assistant professor of political science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

c2 Susan B. Hansen (sbhansen@pitt.edu) is professor of political science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

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