Are voters rationally capable of holding politicians accountable, or are political attitudes determined solely by partisan identity? Few questions are more central to the study of political behavior and public opinion. In Taming Intuition, Kevin Arceneaux and Ryan Vander Wielen make a detailed and convincing case that the answer depends on voters’ preferences toward second-guessing themselves. Arceneaux and Vander Wielen’s book makes substantial progress toward closing the gap between psychological and economic theories of voter rationality by showing how partisan perception and motivated skepticism can be overcome—through reflection—by voters who enjoy thinking. Previous research on heuristics and the rationality of low-information partisan voting undertheorizes voters’ preference for cognitive effort. Partisan identification is universally described as central to voter decision-making: psychological theories treat party identity as a perceptual screen that leads to motivated reasoning, while economic perspectives view partisan labels as heuristics that help rational voters assess politicians’ performance over time. Simply because partisan identification is a useful heuristic, however, does not mean that all voters are looking for a shortcut. The authors describe how political information is processed through two separate psychological systems: first through quick affective judgment, and second through effortful, cognitive reflection, which some may prefer to use more than others. This conception builds on and extends Lodge and Taber (2013) by incorporating individual-level differences into their model of conscious processing. Intuition’s ability to overwhelm rationality depends upon the relative balance of voters’ preferences for feeling and thinking. These preferences are captured in continuous scales measuring “need for affect” (NFA; Maio and Esses 2001) and “need for cognition” (NFC; Petty and Cacioppo 1986), reflecting individuals’ propensity to either seek a broad range of emotional experiences or use thought to make sense of the world, respectively. This focus on “cognitive style” follows approaches in psychology, such as the Elaboration Likelihood Model, that have made an impact in political science as well. Since measures of NFC and NFA are uncommon in political surveys and experimental research, the authors conducted five original studies: three large-N internet surveys (matched to quotas or the Census), and two smaller experiments drawn from the internet and college students. The authors deftly apply the psychological implications of cognitive style to the processes of democratic accountability. When politicians’ behavior runs counter to voters’ expectations—with failed policies, ideologically inconsistent policy positions, or corruption—voters’ first impulse will be to maintain loyalty to partisan identity, leading to reinforcement of their attitudes and continued support for their party’s politicians. Only by accessing the second system, reflection, can attitudes toward politicians and policies be adjusted and democratic accountability be activated. These emotional and rational tendencies are associated with strength of partisan identities in predictable ways. Strong partisans are more attached to their partisan identity, of course, but partisans with higher NFA exhibit much stronger partisan attitudes while levels of NFC are unrelated to party attachment. Among independents, higher NFA is unrelated to their attachment to their independent identity, while higher levels of NFC are negatively related. Voters with higher need for affect rely more strongly on party cues when receiving new information, rejecting pro-attitudinal information when it is conveyed by an out-party politician. Higher need for cognition, when accompanied by lower need for affect, predicts weakening party identity over the course of a campaign. When presented with negative descriptions about the effects of policies of an in-party governor, for instance, only the combination of high need for cognition and low need for affect led voters to evaluate that governor less favorably. By examining these predispositions at their relative extremes, the authors convincingly show that relative values of emotion and rationality moderate citizens’ ability to hold politicians accountable. When voters have higher need for cognition and lower need for affect, they have higher rates of split-ticket voting, lower affective polarization, higher positive ratings for the out-party, and lower levels of anger. These effects of reflection seem to reconcile many of the democratic dilemmas posed by scholars and observers of American politics in our recent polarized and contentious times. For several empirical and theoretical reasons, however, the book falls short of its promise for providing democratic remedies. The findings are exclusively portrayed as predicted probabilities for reflective and non-reflective individuals, but their data show that these categories combined represent a minority of observed respondents, depending upon the cutpoint used. If these categories are made using only the medians of NFA and NFC, 40 percent of the sample fall into one of the two categories; with more stringent criteria, using the seventieth and thirtieth percentiles for each scale, that proportion drops to 11 percent (p. 62). If the observed categories of reflective and non-reflective voters are such a small percent of the population, the authors’ findings are less impactful than they initially seem to be. The dynamics of media use are also critical for determining voters’ exposure to counter-attitudinal information. Their theory begins with the reception of new political information, but the authors do not address how reflective and non-reflective people might differ in their exposure to political information. If people are gravitating toward ideologically congenial media that omit damaging information about the politicians from their party, or misrepresent the facts of policy disputes, that will interfere with the process of reflection. Future research should take up the question of selective exposure considering this book’s findings: do more reflective people also consume a greater diversity of media perspectives? Finally, if reflectiveness is classified as a trait, that limits its usefulness as a cure for American democracy’s ills. It is useful to know that the quality of being reflective is helpful for democratic accountability, but the reader is left without any guidance on how to develop that quality in citizens, or whether that is even possible. Can early childhood socialization inculcate reflective qualities? Civic education? Social capital? If reflection can “minimize partisan reasoning and promote democratic accountability,” as the book’s subtitle argues, the necessary question becomes how to promote reflection in the public. The authors’ proposed solution—crafting institutions that minimize the need for reflection by the public (p. 171)—falls short of describing how reflection might be encouraged. Taming Intuition makes an important contribution to the literature on the psychology of democratic accountability. Measures of need for cognition and need for affect should be included in more political surveys due to their demonstrable impact on attitude formation. Reflection is clearly a powerful force, and Taming Intuition should be commended for calling attention to its political effects. There is great potential for future research on this topic, and certainly much to reflect on in the book itself. References Lodge , Milton , and Charles S. Taber . 2013 . The Rationalizing Voter . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Maio , Gregory R. , and Victoria M. Esses . 2001 . “ The Need for Affect: Individual Differences in the Motivation to Approach or Avoid Emotions .” Journal of Personality 69 ( 4 ): 583 – 614 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed Petty , Richard E. , and John T. Cacioppo . 1986 . “ The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion .” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 19 : 123 – 205 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Public Opinion Quarterly – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 20, 2018
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