Benjamin E Lauderdale, “Does Inattention to Political Debate Explain the Polarization Gap Between the U.S. Congress and Public?”, Public Opinion Quarterly, 77(S):2-23.
Recent studies of the U.S. Congress have demonstrated a substantial difference in partisan polarization between legislators’ votes and citizens’ survey responses about those votes. But perhaps public polarization would increase if citizens were more attentive to political debates in Congress? Using matching techniques on natural variation in citizens’ political information levels, I show that citizens who are informed about the partisan alignment of issues have a similar preference distribution to Congress, even after the former are re-weighted to resemble the entire public along salient political, social, and demographic dimensions. In contrast, using a survey experiment, I show that cue and argument treatments only partially reduce the discrepancy between the views expressed by the public and the voting behavior of Congress on the same issues. Both experimental and observational studies have significant limitations for measuring counterfactuals involving public opinion, and so our understanding of the polarization gap remains unfortunately limited.