Political Science

If you cannot measure your knowledge, it is meager and unsatisfactory

Knowledge or political knowledge primarily exists as political facts that represent the bits of information concerning politics that the citizens hold. An abundance of political knowledge is a prerequisite for satisfactory political understanding and competence; it represents possession of information that can be synthesized into working knowledge. It is proposed that in the absence of reliable systems of measurement for political knowledge, the knowledge is considered meager and unsatisfactory (Schram & Caterino, 2006).

Research and forays into political behavior today primarily consider the cognitions behind the various political attitudes adopted. A basic cognition is political fact, the basis for political knowledge. The measurement of this cognition has proven to be evasive over time with the result that a citizenry exists devoid of a standard measurement system concerning political knowledge. The citizens thus have individual scoring systems for their political knowledge, a situation that in most likelihood renders the majority of the population politically naïve (Heineman, 1995).

It is within this contextual background that the implications of the absence of a measuring system for political knowledge are discussed. It is therefore prudent to make considerations about measurement systems existent concerning the other cognitions recognized in political science. Such cognitions include concepts such as political tolerance, political trust and political partisanship. The existent measures for these cognitions use a common framework that mainly facilitates the comparison of the same across time and among various studies.

The application of this framework to political knowledge however, does not yield a satisfactory measurement system. Comparison of political knowledge over time represents the most significant barrier. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that while measurement systems exist for these other political cognitions, controversy still exists in the application and accuracy of these systems. This fact provides the platform for the counter argument that satisfactory political knowledge among the citizenry can exist in the absence of a recognizable measuring system (Marsh & Stoker, 2010).

Political knowledge represents a central variable in the comprehension of political behavior. It is commonplace, in the research into the same for researchers to ask respondents a series of factual questions about politics. Political knowledge is then represented by a count of items responded to correctly. This straightforward approach produces an outlook steeped in ambiguity. A question then arises as to whether the simple count of correct responses is appropriate. This arises especially in the situation when the other two response categories- the incorrect answer and the ‘do not know’ responses are not grouped together in a single ‘lack of knowledge’ categorization (Schram & Caterino, 2006).

If we consider the measurement of political knowledge to mean correct answers representing knowledge, the implication becomes that more correct responses equals higher levels of knowledge and that items answered incorrectly indicate the absence of knowledge. This innocuous viewpoint brings about some demanding assumptions about the nature of political knowledge.

The scale of knowledge is assumed to possess validity in the sense that correct answers mean that a respondent has the knowledge in question. The second assumption places political knowledge as a discrete entity. This implies that for any question of political fact, one either knows or does not know the knowledge; no grey areas can exist. The third assumption is that a knowledge scale only measures knowledge. It is assumed that no other attribute apart from knowledge parse experiences systematic variation as a result of variation of correctness of responses (Blank & Hines, 2001).

Political knowledge has been proposed to be the best measure of political sophistication and the state of political awareness. This preposition inexorably raises the stakes of this discussion. In this mind frame, over the years, political knowledge has been used as a dependent variable, as an independent variable and as a moderating variable as well. The validity of these measures thence cannot be viewed as definitively accurate. An example of political knowledge considered as an independent variable is seen when placed in a context putting voter turnout as the dependent variable. Past research has shown that voter turnout increases as a function of more political knowledge.

Education has been shown to be a strong predicting variable concerning political knowledge. It has been showed that as the level of education of an individual advances upward, so does the individual’s political knowledge, albeit based on the number of correct responses on knowledge surveys. This implicitly implies that as greater education is garnered, ignorance/the lack of knowledge reduces. This state of affairs lays credence to the assertion that if you cannot measure your knowledge, it is meager and unsatisfactory. This is so since it is analogous to not having a means to measure the amount of education one possesses.

In attempts to measure political knowledge, various categorizations of the citizen have arisen. There are informed citizens, uninformed citizens, partially informed citizens and misinformed citizens. Misinformed citizens rate highly on attentiveness and low on understanding, partially informed citizens on the other hand outscore the uninformed on both attentiveness and comprehension. While these traits can be understood to mean that their political knowledge is unsatisfactory, the three groups cannot be viewed as uniform (Scott, 1990).

The assertion that if you cannot measure your knowledge, it is meager and unsatisfactory gains further credence when you consider that the measurement of knowledge may measure one or more entities other than knowledge. A plausible entity measured alongside political knowledge is personality traits. Traits range from aspects such as competitiveness, confidence in the self and risk taking. If the absence of knowledge is synonymous to the absence of these character traits, it follows that it is meager and unsatisfactory since these traits are considered essential for successful living/successful politics.

However, a counter argument can reasonably be proposed that if you cannot measure your knowledge, it is not necessarily meager and unsatisfactory. The basis for the preposition stems from the same notion that the measurement of knowledge may measure one or more entities other than knowledge. A situation is considered where a social desirability effect compels a respondent to understate their level of political knowledge. A hypothetical situation best describes this possibility (Sharma, 2002)

We suppose hypothetically that two partially informed citizens are subjected to a political knowledge survey. It is also assumed that neither citizen is discouraged from guessing. An assumption also exists that the citizens will try their best to answer out questions where they have some knowledge. A distinction between the two identical citizens can still be reached if one of them views it as desirable to appear highly informed and the other views it as desirable not to appear misinformed. The former is likely to abstain from choosing an ‘I do not know’ option while the latter is likely to choose the ‘I do not know’ option. This possibility challenges the view that if one cannot measure their political knowledge, then the knowledge is unsatisfactory.

Another situational analysis serves to justify the counter argument. This analysis draws credence from the possibility that knowledge is not discrete. If the acquisition of knowledge motivates a citizen to vote, then it is probably not essential for the information to be accurate in the first place. Citizenry incorrectly thinking they are informed demonstrate behavioral psychology similar to the genuinely well informed. With the elimination of severe misinformation possibilities such as mistakenly thinking that a vote has been rescheduled, the counter argument holds its own: that if you cannot measure your knowledge, it is not necessarily meager and unsatisfactory (Eksterowicz & Roberts, 2000).

Various predictors of political knowledge have been identified in the past. They include factors such as educational levels achieved, the age bracket occupied, the race, sex, income levels, interest in the political process, political discussion and the internal efficacy variable. Notably, all these factors happen to be measurable in some terms. For instance education by accreditation conferred, age by number, income levels by income brackets and political discussion by frequency. It then follows that measurable political knowledge means that a low measure implies a low measure for these factors as well. In this mind frame, it follows that immeasurable political knowledge is tantamount to unsatisfactory knowledge since these factors will also be unsatisfactory (Melanson, 1975).

From the discussions so far, it becomes apparent that the scholastic concern with political knowledge and the implications of its measurement is much more than a descriptive exercise parse. This is so because political knowledge is appreciated to influence the extent and breadth of citizen participation in the political process directly. It follows that this comprehension of knowledge and its measure is a crucial step in the campaign to increase citizen participation and citizen representation in the political process. Crucial since the political process determines the ‘way of life’ holistically for the citizen. We therefore conclude that if you cannot measure your knowledge, it is meager and unsatisfactory.






















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Ethridge, M. E., & Handelman, H. (2009). Politics in a Changing World. Cengage Learning

Eksterowicz, A. J., & Roberts, R. N. (2000). Public journalism and political knowledge. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

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Marsh, D., & Stoker, G. (2010). Theory and Methods in Political Science. Palgrave Macmillan

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Scott, P. (1990). Knowledge and nation. Edinburgh University Press

Sharma, P. L. (2002). Modern Methods of Teaching Political Science. Sarup & Sons


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