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Open Access Publications from the University of California

When do simple cues make citizens smart? : understanding the conditions under which cues improve decisions

  • Author(s): Boudreau, Cheryl
  • et al.

It is widely known that citizens use cues--such as party labels, polls, candidates' appearances, and endorsements-- when making political decisions. What is still in doubt, however, is whether and under what conditions particular cues help different types of citizens to improve their decisions in different contexts. Indeed, given the multitude of cues that exist in the real world, the varied levels of sophistication among citizens, and the wide variety of situations in which citizens may find themselves, it seems unlikely that cues are equally effective for all citizens, at all times, and in all places. In my dissertation, I identify conditions under which particular cues help citizens to improve their decisions. More concretely, I assess 1) whether and under what conditions a single cue helps both sophisticated and unsophisticated citizens to improve their decisions, 2) whether and under what conditions multiple cues work better than one cue alone, and 3) whether and under what conditions citizens can learn from the statements of multiple speakers. My theoretical and empirical results show that : The statements of an endorser only improve the decisions of both sophisticated and unsophisticated citizens when the endorser's incentives are clear. Once the endorser's incentives become less transparent, this cue no longer helps citizens to improve their decisions consistently, nor does it consistently close the gap between sophisticated and unsophisticated citizens. Two cues are not necessarily better than one cue. That is, when one cue enables citizens to achieve large improvements in their decisions, the presence of a second cue does not help citizens to improve their decisions further. However, when neither cue is particularly useful by itself, these cues help citizens to make better decisions than they make with only one cue. Competition between two experts does not necessarily induce both experts to make truthful statements; thus, citizens are unable to improve their decisions under these circumstances. Indeed, competition between experts only induces truthful statements and enables the citizen to learn once it is combined with institutions. Taken together, my results demonstrate that cues are not equally effective for all citizens in all contexts

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