Political sophistication as opinion constraint: a context-driven property?


Promoteurs : Pierre Baudewyns, Ruth Dassonneville (Université de Montréal)

Chercheuse : Marta Gallina

Financement : Bourse UCLouvain - FSR

This project aims to shed light on the topic of political sophistication, introduced for the first time by Converse (1964) and widely discussed over the years, but still lacking of a clear definition, measure and explanation. This concept was indeed operationalized in different ways (e.g., political knowledge, political interest, political information). However, those indicators represent preconditions of sophistication, not sophistication itself. Moreover, on the side of independent variables, sophistication was explained by means of micro-level variables (i.e., the individuals’ socio-economic status) or macro-level predictors (i.e., institutional characteristics of the political systems), but scholars did not test the possible effect of features of party competition. In the light of all this, the aims of this research project are to: assess the overall dimensionality of political sophistication, and test whether the original definition by Converse , opinion constraint (i.e., citizens’ capability to organize thoughts, Centre de science politique et de politique comparée attitudes and opinions consistently) can be actually considered as a main dimension of this concept; estimate the effect exerted on opinion constraint by a new contextual variable regarding parties’ characteristics, i.e. party systems’ ideological constraint; evaluate the variation of this contextual effect over time and across European countries. The main hypothesis is that, given the new phenomenon called ideological convergence of mainstream parties, in countries where the principal party options have become significantly less distinguishable in terms of programs and ideologies , citizens are less able than in the past to pursue constrained ideological and policy positions as well. This research will help us not only in understanding what is the real nature of sophistication, but also in discovering new possible scenarios where the environmental characteristics of European party systems could have a significant impact on the attitude of individuals to be politically sophisticated.