This is a highly selective review of the huge literature bearing on the capacity of mass electorates for issue voting, in view of the great (mal)distribution of political information across the public, with special attention to the implications of information heterogeneity for alternative methods of research. I trace the twists and turns in understanding the meaning of high levels of response instability on survey policy items from their discovery in the first panel studies of 1940 to the current day. I consider the recent great elaboration of diverse heuristics that voters use to reason with limited information, as well as evidence that the aggregation of preferences so central to democratic process serves to improve the apparent quality of the electoral response. A few recent innovations in design and analysis hold promise of illuminating this topic from helpful new angles.

Never overestimate the information of the American electorate, but never underestimate its intelligence.

(Mark Shields, syndicated political columnist, citing an old aphorism)


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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