Side header image

Advanced Grant 2011 - Stefaan Walgrave

Information-processing by individual political actors. The determinants of exposure, attention and action in a comparative perspective (INFOPOL)

A well-functioning democracy implies that political actors are aware of the real problems in society, their potential solutions, and the associated preferences of citizens. This requires information about the real world.

This project examines how individual political actors process information coming out of society. Its goal is to lay bare the patterns whereby exposure to certain types of information regarding problems lead to specific forms of attention to that information triggering particular kinds of action by political actors.

For the first time, this project tackles the information-processing of political actors in a direct, encompassing and comparative manner. Drawing on previous work on agenda-setting, on bounded rationality and on representation the project first develops a theory of individual political actors dealing with information. Information-processing depends on properties of the source of information, of the message itself, and of the receiver of the information. Laying bare the information streams and information-processing of political actors is complex.

The study assesses the behaviour of political actors in three countries (Belgium, Canada and Israel) and across actors different institutional positions (MPs, ministers, party leaders). I expect to find differences between institutional position of actors and between nations. In fact, the countries under study have very different political systems which should lead to a different information-processing behaviour of elites. The heart of the empirical part of the project is an in-depth, almost ethnographic study of the information-processing of fifty politicians in each country. These actors are observed relying on (a) time-budgeting, (b) participatory observation, and (c) interviews. Apart from this sample of fifty actors, the entire population (or a large sample) of political actors will be scrutinized using (d) surveys, (e) experiments, and (f) behavioural records.