The influence of political knowledge on opinion polarization in citizen deliberation

Herne, Kaisa; Christensen, Henrik Serup; Grönlund, Kimmo
Political Research Exchange

Empirical studies show that people with high political knowledge tend to polarize more than others. Polarization refers to a process where one becomes more extreme in the direction of her or his original views. While some evidence supports this view, there is also contrasting evidence, rendering ambiguous conclusions. Discussing in a deliberative setting might alleviate polarization among participants independent of whether they are knowledgeable. We examine the association between knowledge and opinion polarization in a deliberative mini-public setting, focusing on two reasons that may account for the diverging results. First, we distinguish between two types of knowledge: general political knowledge, which concerns knowledge on general political processes and structures, and issue knowledge, which concerns factual knowledge on the specific discussed topic. Second, we examine whether the deliberative context moderates the linkage between knowledge and polarization. We use evidence from two deliberative experiments to examine these linkages. The topic of the first is nuclear power and energy policies and the second concerns immigration. Our results show that general political knowledge and individual level polarization are associated. However, the specific nature of the association is context-dependent and differs between the two types of political knowledge.