in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
How do people make political judgments and decisions? Each day, people are faced with a host of political issues. They also possess a limited amount of cognitive resources and must grapple with topics on which there is not necessarily an objectively correct answer. In turn, people rely on accessible information to facilitate their political judgments and decisions. Information is accessible when it is activated in a person's mind. The information can either be chronically accessible, such as the political issues that are consistently important to a person, or made accessible through the situation, such as the issues that the media choose to cover in a given time and place. Situational information becomes especially accessible when the context activates available information stored in memory or the information is consistent with a person's motivations and goals, such as media coverage rendering civil rights more accessible for racial minorities. Priming refers to the usage of accessible information when making judgments and decisions, such as deciding whether to sign a petition or how to vote in an election. In recent years, considerable debate has emerged about the generalizability of findings and current conceptual models of accessibility and priming across people and contexts. As research on accessibility and priming progresses, scholars continue to examine these topics in novel areas (e.g., social media) and push in building nuanced theoretical frameworks that help to explain variability in priming across contexts. Overall, understanding how people use accessible information in political judgments and decisions stands as an important factor in developing a comprehensive picture of political life.