Democratic competence, before converse and after

Critical Review 18 (1-3):105-141 (2006)

The topic of the democratic public's limited competence has preoccupied students of democracy for centuries. Anecdotal concerns about the problem reached their peak of sophistication in the writings of Walter Lippmann and Joseph Schumpeter. Not until Philip E. Converse's ?The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics? did statistical research overwhelmingly confirm the worst fears of such democratic skeptics. Subsequent work has tended to confirm Converse's picture of a tiny stratum of well?informed ideological elites whose passionate political debates find little echo, or even awareness, in the mass public. While a great deal of attention has been devoted to ?saving? democratic legitimacy from such findings, the Converse?inspired work of John Zaller (1992) shows how fruitful Converse's basic ideas can be not only in analyzing real?world political events, but in pulling together and stimulating new lines of research into what moves the ?creative synthesizers? of belief systems; into the factors that affect the small numbers of people who grasp such systems and attempt to transmit them to the public; and into the long?term psychological or cultural sources of the predispositions with which members of the mass public confront the resulting political messages
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DOI 10.1080/08913810608443652
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Article.[author unknown] - 2000 - Sartre Studies International 6 (4):411-425.

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