Aya Kachi - How Political Predispositions Influence Factual and Perceived Knowledge about Energy Technologies: Empirical Analyses of Deep Geothermal Energy and Hydropower in Switzerland
Abstract: A common understanding in public opinion studies is that we, the public, often turn to mental short-cuts to form an opinion on important policy issues: for example, we reflexively adopt the positions of the political parties with which we identify. This is true especially when the topic is highly politicized or technical, such as energy and environmental policy. However, recent research on climate beliefs has shown that not only opinions but even our supposedly objective knowledge about the topic—i.e., factual beliefs that are either scientifically accurate or inaccurate—correlates with our political ideology.
Moreover, research shows that these innocent and completely natural mental short-cuts may lead us to think we know (subjective knowledge) more than we do. Our use of political heuristics is concerning whether or not our political parties espouse accurate information. It is concerning because our objective and subjective knowledge influence how much and what type of information we seek.
Therefore, it is important to understand whether and under what conditions our perceived or factual knowledge regarding technical energy issues might be influenced by our ideological predispositions. To investigate these questions, we launched two original surveys asking Swiss citizens about energy technologies: deep geothermal energy (domestically nascent and not highly politicized) and hydro power (mature and politicized). We show multiple paths through which political predispositions can affect citizens’ knowledge.
First, we show evidence that subjective and objective knowledge scores are not highly correlated. That is, respondents typically think they know more (or less) than they do. Second, when we probed objective knowledge more deeply, we found evidence of patterns between accuracy and political ideology when the topic is highly politicized. Finally, our detailed analyses of each knowledge question show evidence that, even with a less politicized energy topic, respondents’ answers to survey items that included “trigger” words (i.e., words that might elicit political feelings) exhibited political patterning.