how politicians evaluate expertise – Evidence & Policy Blog

Anina Hanimann

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘How perceptions of voter control affect politicians’ evaluations of expertise in the news: a survey experiment on the role of accountability beliefs’.

The news serves as a crucial source of expertise for members of parliament (MPs), offering them cost-effective policy advice. However, the public nature of expertise in the news can significantly influence how MPs perceive and evaluate such expertise. Politicians who feel under intense scrutiny by their constituents may be more inclined to make decisions that align with public opinion, are easily justifiable, or simply appear to be the ‘right’ choice. These motivations can significantly shape the evaluation of expertise presented in the media.

My recent study in Evidence & Policy delves into this complex dynamic. I explore whether MPs’ assessments of expertise in news media differ depending on their perceptions of voter control. To investigate this, I analysed survey data from Swiss cantonal members of parliament, who were tasked with evaluating the credibility of expert statements.

The article yields three main findings.

  1. MPs who feel closely watched by their constituents tend to approach expert statements in the news with greater caution. They are less likely to trust experts who might have hidden agendas, such as those representing large corporations. This suggests that MPs are hesitant to endorse experts whom they believe their constituents distrust or who may offer unreliable advice.
  2. MPs who sense strong voter scrutiny are more receptive to experts advocating for specific policy actions. Such experts may exert additional pressure on MPs to act, particularly when they feel closely monitored by their constituents.
  3. Interestingly, MPs who perceive high levels of voter observation show indifference towards whether expert statements reference research or not. This could imply that these MPs are more inclined to heed expert advice regardless of its evidential support, or it may suggest that these MPs just hold evidence in higher regard across different evidence bases. However, further analysis reveals that this effect only shows when in uncontroversial issues, indicating that MPs feeling intense voter scrutiny may be less concerned about potential backlash.

In summary, my research underscores the significant impact of MPs’ perceptions of voter control on the evaluation of expertise in the news. It also highlights the intricate relationship between voter control and the characteristics of expertise. The results also have practical implications regarding when to portray which type of expert with what kind of statement in the news. Understanding how perceptions of voter control shape MPs’ evaluation of expertise is crucial for enhancing our comprehension of how expertise informs political decision-making.

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Anina Hanimann is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine at the University of Lucerne. She is also head of the Department for Health Promotion and Prevention at Interface Politikstudien Forschung Beratung AG. Her research focuses on the perception and use of expertise in the political process. Contact: [email protected]

Read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

Hanimann, A. (2024). How perceptions of voter control affect politicians’ evaluations of expertise in the news: a survey experiment on the role of accountability beliefs. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/174426423X17003139456567.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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