Democracy without informed citizens: the influence of partisan cues on political perceptions of uninformed Kenyans
Asingo, Patrick O
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The democratic theory assigns citizens key decision-making roles which require good understanding of the political system and its policy-making dynamics. Yet, empirical evidence, derived largely from studies of advanced democracies, shows that most people lack pertinent political information. This creates a democratic puzzle in which information-intensive democratic process is driven by information deficient citizens. Thus, the key research question is: If democracy requires informed citizens, then why does it work well in Kenya, despite a huge political information deficit among Kenyans? To address this question, I first developed a new political information index and, with the aid of Afrobarometer survey data, used it to measure political information levels among Kenyans. This is critical in order to avoid anchoring the study on an untested assumption that Kenyans, like citizens of advanced democracies, lack pertinent political information. The data show that, indeed, the mean political information level among Kenyans is very low, while the variance is very high. I then tested whether democracy works properly in the face of such a huge political information deficit. Using respondent knowledge, satisfaction, and support levels for democracy as proxy indicators of how well democracy functions, the results show that democracy, as understood by citizens, works fairly well, despite an information deficit. Citizens' evaluation of how well democracy works in Kenya seems accurate since it is corroborated by scholars (Semetko, 2010) and by expert assessment from Freedom House reports. Finally, I return to the research question above, and anchor the analysis on two interrelated assumptions derived from political cue theory and the extant literature. First, political behavior is primarily driven by subjective political perceptions rather than objective political facts. Secondly, uninformed citizens (respondents) tend to think heuristically rather than ideologically about political issues. The results largely support political cue theory and the core hypothesis. Specifically, partisanship reduces the perception gap between uninformed and informed citizens, thereby enabling the uninformed to behave as if they are informed.
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