The Journal of Politics

Articles

Ambiguity, Distorted Messages, and Nested Environmental Effects on Political Communication

Robert Huckfeldta1, Paul Allen Becka2, Russell J. Daltona3, Jeffrey Levinea4 and William Morgana4

a1 Indiana University

a2 Ohio State University

a3 University of California, Irvine

a4 Indiana University

Abstract

In this paper we are concerned with the clarity of political signals transmitted through political conversation and the accuracy with which those signals are perceived. The social communication of political information is subject to distortion effects that arise due to skewed expectations on the part of the receiver and ambiguous representations on the part of the sender. Indeed, communication that occurs between two citizens might be distorted either by characteristics of the individuals who are transmitting and receiving messages, or by characteristics of the setting in which the information is being transmitted. We argue that the power of majority opinion is magnified by the inferential devices that citizens use to reach judgments in the face of ambiguous political messages and hence the use of a personal experience heuristic gives rise to a political bias that favors the continued dominance of majority opinion.

(Accepted May 06 1997)

(Received November 13 1997)

Robert Huckfeldt is professor of political science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.

Paul Allen Beck is professor of political science, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210.

Russell J. Dalton is professor, Politics and Society Department, University of California, Irvine, CA 92717.

Jeffrey Levine is a graduate student in political science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.

William Morgan is a graduate student in political science, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.

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