The privilege of (defining) knowledge

Gender differences in political knowledge across Europe

Authored by: Jessica Fortin-Rittberger , Lena Ramstetter

The Routledge Handbook of Gender and EU Politics

Print publication date:  March  2021
Online publication date:  March  2021

Print ISBN: 9781138485259
eBook ISBN: 9781351049955
Adobe ISBN:


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Democratic theory holds that citizens must be sufficiently knowledgeable about public matters to meaningfully participate in politics. In simple terms, political knowledge is to know “what government is and does” (Barber 1969, 38) in order to make “reasoned decisions” (Lupia and McCubbins 1998). Political knowledge is key for the functioning of democracy as both a foundation and facilitator of many features of good citizenship: it increases political tolerance, efficacy, and interest in politics (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996), fosters different forms of political participation, from casting a ballot to being involved with a political party (Verba et al. 1997; Zaller 1993), empowers people to vote for those who are consistent with their own ideology (Singh and Roy 2014) and, most important, enables them to hold office-holders accountable (de Vries and Giger 2014). Thus, “a broadly and equitably informed citizenry helps assure a democracy that is both responsive and responsible” (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996, 1). Yet, across the globe, citizens seem to be poorly informed about political institutions, processes, and policies. Europe has not escaped this trend: the relatively scarce research in this field (Braun and Tausendpfund 2019; Maier and Bathelt 2013; Niedermayer and Sinnott 1995) suggests that citizens’ overall level of knowledge about European institutions is soberingly low.

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