Skip to main content Accessibility help

Information Behavior and Political Preferences

  • Konstantin Vössing and Till Weber


This article shows that citizens consider policy positions for the formation of their political preferences when they actively seek and find high-quality information, while they dismiss passively acquired and low-quality information. The study develops an extended theory of information and political preferences that incorporates the process of information acquisition and its connection with information quality. A novel experimental design separates the effects on political preferences due to information behavior as an activity from those due to selective exposure to information. The study applies this design in a laboratory experiment with a diverse group of participants using the example of issue voting and European integration in the context of the 2014 European Parliament elections.



Hide All

Humboldt University Berlin, Institute of Social and Political Sciences (email:; Baruch College, City University of New York (email: We are grateful for having had the opportunity to present our research at the Montréal voting experiments workshop, the MPSA Conference 2014, a workshop at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University and the Comparative Politics Research Workshop at Humboldt University Berlin. Thanks for helpful comments go in particular to our discussants Richard Lau and Christopher Lawrence, as well as three anonymous reviewers, the editors of this journal and Diana Burlacu. Friederike Talbot provided excellent research assistance and feedback. We also benefited from valuable feedback from our pre-testers, Nicoleta Bazgan, Steffen Beigang, Pauline Defant, Dominik Duell, Cosima Ingenschay, Dorina Kalkum, Thomas Maruhn, Jochen Rehmert, Birgit Reinhold, Marc Reinhold, Carina Schmitt and Marcel Skaun. Konstantin Vössing gratefully acknowledges support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German research foundation), grant number VO 1990/1-1. Data replication sets are available at and online appendices are available at



Hide All
Alvarez, Michael, Levin, Ines, Mair, Peter, and Trechsel, Alexander. 2014. Party Preferences in the Digital Age: The Impact of Voting Advice Applications. Party Politics 20 (2):227236.
Arceneaux, Kevin, and Johnson, Martin. 2013. Changing Minds or Changing Channels? Partisan News in an Age of Choice. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Areni, Charles, and Lutz, Richard. 1988. The Role of Argument Quality in the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Advances in Consumer Research 15:197203.
Atkinson, Richard. 1972. Ingredients for a Theory of Instruction. American Psychologist 27 (10):921931.
Bates, Marcia. 2002. Toward an Integrated Model of Information Seeking and Searching. New Review of Information Behaviour Research 3:115.
Bell, Bradford, and Kozlowski, Steve. 2008. Active Learning: Effects of Core Training Design Elements on Self-Regulatory Processes, Learning, and Adaptability. Journal of Applied Psychology 93 (2):296316.
Bruner, Jerome, Goodnow, Jacqueline, and Austin, George. 1956. A Study of Thinking. London: Chapman and Hall.
Case, Donald. 2007. Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. New York: Academic Press.
De Vries, Catherine, van der Brug, Wouter, van Egmond, Marcel, and van der Eijk, Cees. 2011. Individual and Contextual Variation in EU Issue Voting: The Role of Political Information. Electoral Studies 30:1628.
Dinas, Elias, and Pardos-Prado, Sergi. 2012. A Hidden Giant? Exploring the Centrifugal Dynamics of Attitudes Towards the European Unification. Acta Politica 47 (4):378399.10.1057/ap.2012.13
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.
Druckman, James, Fein, Jordan, and Leeper, Thomas. 2012. A Source of Bias in Public Opinion Stability. American Political Science Review 106 (2):430454.
Gaines, Brian, and Kuklinski, James. 2011. Experimental Estimation of Heterogeneous Treatment Effects Related to Self-Selection. American Journal of Political Science 55 (3):724736.
Harman, Karin, Humphrey, Keith, and Goodale, Melvyn. 1999. Active Manual Control of Object Views Facilitates Visual Recognition. Current Biology 9:13152118.
Hix, Simon, and Lord, Christopher. 1997. Political Parties in the European Union. New York: Macmillan.
Hobolt, Sara, and Wittrock, Jill. 2011. The Second-Order Election Model Revisited: An Experimental Test of Vote Choices in European Parliament Elections. Electoral Studies 30:2940.10.1016/j.electstud.2010.09.020
Hooghe, Liesbet, and Marks, Gary. 1999. The Making of a Polity: The Struggle Over European Integration. In Continuity and Change in Contemporary Capitalism, edited by Herbert Kitschelt, Peter Lange, Gary Marks and John Stephens, 7097. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hurwitz, Jon, and Peffley, Mark. 2005. Playing the Race Card in the Post-Willie Horton Era. The Impact of Racialized Code Words on Support for Punitive Crime Policy. Public Opinion Quarterly 69 (1):99112.
Imbens, Guido. 2000. The Role of the Propensity Score in Estimating Dose-Response Functions. Biometrika 87 (3):706710.
Iyengar, Shanto, Peters, Mark, and Kinder, Donald. 1982. Experimental Demonstrations of the ‘Not-So-Minimal’ Consequences of Television News Programs. American Political Science Review 76 (4):848858.
Johnson, David. 1997. Cancer-Related Information Seeking. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Kinder, Donald. 2003. Communication and Politics in the Age of Information. In Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, edited by David O. Sears, Leonie Huddy and Robert Jervis, 357393. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Klapper, Joseph. 1960. The Effects of Mass Communications. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Lenz, Gabriel. 2009. Learning and Opinion Change, Not Priming: Reconsidering the Priming Hypothesis. American Journal of Political Science 53 (4):821837.
Leotti, Lauren, Iyengar, Sheena, and Oshsner, Kevin. 2010. Born to Choose: The Origins and Value of the Need for Control. Trends Cognitive Science 14:457463.
Markant, Douglas, DuBrow, Sarah, Davachi, Lila, and Gureckis, Todd. 2014. Deconstructing the Effect of Self-Directed Study on Episodic Memory. Memory and Cognition 42 (8):12111224.
Markant, Douglas, and Gureckis, Todd. 2013. Is It Better to Select or to Receive? Learning Via Active and Passive Hypothesis Testing. Journal of Experimental Psychology 143 (1):94122.
McGuire, William. 1985. Attitudes and Attitude Change. In Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd Edition, Vol. 2, edited by Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson, 233346. New York: Random House.
Paas, Fred, Renkl, Alexander, and Sweller, John. 2004. Cognitive Load Theory: Instructional Implications of the Interaction Between Information Structures and Cognitive Architecture. Instructional Science 32:18.
Petty, Richard, and Cacioppo, John. 1986. The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 19:123205.
Rabinowitz, George, and Macdonald, Stuart Elaine. 1989. A Directional Theory of Issue Voting. American Political Science Review 83 (1):93121.
Reif, Karlheinz, and Schmitt, Herrmann. 1980. Nine Second-Order National Elections: A Conceptual Framework for the Analysis of European Election Results. European Journal of Political Research 81:345.
Rosenbaum, Paul, and Rubin, Donald. 1983. The Central Role of the Propensity Score in Observational Studies for Causal Effects. Biometrika 70 (1):4155.
Sobel, David, and Kushnir, Tamar. 2006. The Importance of Decision Making in Causal Learning from Interventions. Memory and Cognition 34 (2):411419.
Steenbergen, Marco, Bächtiger, André, Spörndli, Markus, and Steiner, Jürg. 2003. Measuring Political Deliberation: A Discourse Quality Index. Comparative European Politics 1 (1):2148.
Stroud, Natalie. 2008. Media Use and Political Predispositions: Revisiting the Concept of Selective Exposure. Political Behavior 30 (3):341366.
Sunstein, Cass. 2001. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Tilley, James, and Wlezien, Christopher. 2008. Does Political Information Matter? An Experimental Test Relating to Party Positions on Europe. Political Studies 56:192214.
Van der Brug, Wouter, and van der Eijk, Cees. 1999. The Cognitive Basis of Voting. In Political Representation and Legitimacy in the European Union, edited by Hermann Schmitt and Jacques Thomassen, 129160. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Van der Brug, Wouter, Franklin, Mark, and Tóka, Gábor. 2008. One Electorate or Many? Differences in Party Preference Formation Between New and Established European Democracies. Electoral Studies 27 (4):589600.
Van der Eijk, Cees, and Franklin, Mark. 2004. Potential for Contestation on European Matters at National Elections in Europe. In European Integration and Political Conflict, edited by Gary Marks and Marco Steenbergen, 3250. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Van der Eijk, Cees, van der Brug, Wouter, Kroh, Martin, and Franklin, Mark. 2006. Rethinking the Dependent Variable in Voting Behavior: On the Measurement and Analysis of Electoral Utilities. Electoral Studies 25 (3):424447.
Vassil, Kristjan. 2011. Role of Self Selection in Estimating the Effects of Voting Advice Applications: Empirical Evidence on the Basis of Swiss Smartvote Data. 6th ECPR General Conference, Reykjavik, 25–27 August.
Voss, Joel, Warren, David, Gonsalves, Brian, Federmeier, Kara, Tranel, Daniel, and Cohen, Neal. 2011. Spontaneous Revisitation During Visual Exploration as a Link Among Strategic Behavior, Learning, and the Hippocampus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:E4029.
Weber, Till. 2007. Campaign Effects and Second-Order Cycles: A Top-Down Approach to European Parliament Elections. European Union Politics 8 (4):509536.
Weber, Till. 2009. When the Cat is Away the Mice Will Play: Why Elections to the European Parliament are About Europe After All. Politique Européenne 28:5371.
Zaller, John. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Vössing and Weber Dataset

Supplementary materials

Vössing and Weber supplementary material

 PDF (194 KB)
194 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed