Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

The Level of Political Knowledge in Slovenia: Who Is (Not) Politically Informed?

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

The Level of Political Knowledge in Slovenia: Who Is (Not) Politically Informed?

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Democracy as a form of government is based upon the presumption that citizens are active in political participation, informed and engaged in political activity (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996). Furthermore, a supposition of democracy is 'that decision making of the public is based on well-informed and sophisticated political reasoning (Scheufeie et al 2002,427)'. The ideal citizen in a democratic system is thus informed, doubtful, partial to public affairs, attentive towards positions of his or her nation and the quality of its leaders (Iyengar and Kinder 1987, 119) but also always concerned about issues that have an impact and take place in his community (Lippman 1961, 269). However, the research shows that the average citizen is poorly informed, with scarce knowledge of political institutions, public policies, socio-economic circumstances and political actors, while this level of information - or to be more precise, the lack of information - is stable over time (Delli Carpini 2000, 129; Lupia and McCubbins 2003, 17). Despite scarce knowledge of governmental affairs and politics, the average citizen is regularly confronted with the need to form an opinion towards public issues. Ultimately, citizens have to decide to whom they give their vote to and how they will make decisions about programmes and candidates (Stokes 1962, 690). Notwithstanding the high level of political ignorance, Delli Carpini and Keeter (1996, 289) claim that voters do not need all the information that is out there to make reasonable decisions (see also Lupia and McCubbins 2003). Iyengar (1990,182) also argues that we should abolish the model of an informed voter, which is completely unrealistic. After all, a low level of information does not mean complete ignorance, and at least it does not mean general ignorance (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1994, 19). With the acquisition of new information, voters can at least familiarize themselves about current political events (Popkin 1994). The question thus no longer is whether the public is politically informed, but rather who is informed and what he is informed about (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1994,19). Therefore we are setting the following three research questions:

1. Who in Slovenia is politically informed?

2. Who is knowledgeable about national issues compared to EU issues?

3. How knowledgeable are Slovenians in comparison to citizens in other EU member states?

While surveys of political behaviour, attitudes and opinions in Slovenia are regularly conducted, measures of political knowledge, although present, are not that uniform. This article, by use of data collected from the European Election Study 2009, examines sources of variation in political knowledge of Slovenian citizens, comparing also the level of knowledge in Slovenia to other EU-member states. Due to the recent elections for the European parliament (May 2014), the question of who possesses political knowledge about national and EU issues is very topical. Results can offer us an insight into which groups are information poor and calls the attention towards which groups information campaigns should be directed to in future.

2 What is political knowledge

Political knowledge2 is the best measure for political intellectuality, sophistication and awareness (Mondak 1999, 58). Delli Carpini and Keeter (1996, 10), as the authors who might have studied political knowledge the most, systematically defined it as a set of factual information on politics stored in long-term memory. They understand political knowledge as a competence, as a resource that can be upgraded. The political knowledge, that a voter needs in order to be a good citizen, can thus be acquired also by an individual with average competence (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1993, 1186). And factual knowledge is that fundamental knowledge necessary for building voters competence (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1994, 21). It includes knowledge of political systems and institutions, knowledge of the functioning of political systems and tasks of government, knowledge of political actors and their jurisdictions, knowledge of current economic and social conditions, and the main daily issues and positions of political leaders towards these issues (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996). …

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