Preparedness of Swiss Citizens for the Future Energy Debate: How Political Predispositions Influence Factual and Perceived Knowledge

Kachi, Aya and Lordan-Perret, Rebecca. (2019) Preparedness of Swiss Citizens for the Future Energy Debate: How Political Predispositions Influence Factual and Perceived Knowledge.

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Official URL: https://edoc.unibas.ch/74256/

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A common understanding in public opinion studies is that we, the public, often turn to mental short-cuts to form an opinion on important policy issues: in particular, we reflexively adopt the positions of the political parties with which we identify. The use of political heuristics is prevalent especially when the topic is highly politicized or technical (i.e., cognitively demanding), such as is the case in climate and energy policy. However, recent research on climate beliefs has shown that not only opinions but even our supposedly objective knowledge about the topic correlates with our political ideology. Moreover, research shows that these innocent and natural mental short-cuts may lead us to think we know (subjective knowledge) more than we do. Much of existing research in sustainability transitions has focused on the effect of policy-related information or its framing on public support for a hypothetical policy that is designed to achieve climate and sustainability goals. In reality, however, the amount and type of "relevant" information people seek is not exogenous as it is assumed in many of these studies. Instead, as marketing research has shown in the context of people's product choice, our objective and subjective knowledge influence how much and what type of information we seek. This is why we argue that the potential effect of political heuristics on our knowledge-building is concerning whether or not our political parties espouse accurate information. In this paper, we investigate whether and under what conditions our perceived or factual knowledge might be influenced by our ideological predispositions.To this end, we rely on two original surveys asking Swiss citizens about energy technologies: deep geothermal energy (domestically nascent and not highly politicized) and hydro power (mature and politicized). Both technologies are currently being considered as clean energy to partially replace nuclear power. We find multiple paths through which political predispositions can affect citizens' knowledge.First, we show evidence that subjective and objective knowledge scores are not highly correlated. That is, respondents typically think they know more (or less) than they do. Second, to our surprise, we found a more prominent effect of political heuristics on knowledge in the case of DGE, a politically nascent and less politicized topic in Switzerland compared to HP. Finally, when we probed objective knowledge more deeply and analyzed each knowledge item, we found that respondents' answers to survey items that included "trigger" words (i.e., words that might elicit political feelings) exhibited political patterning.
Faculties and Departments:06 Faculty of Business and Economics > Departement Wirtschaftswissenschaften > Professuren Wirtschaftswissenschaften > International Political Economy and Energy Policy (Kachi)
UniBasel Contributors:Kachi, Aya and Lordan-Perret, Rebecca
Item Type:Working Paper
Number of Pages:41
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Discussion paper / Internet publication
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Last Modified:26 May 2020 10:15
Deposited On:26 May 2020 10:15

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