Information-processing by individual political actors. The determinants of exposure, attention and action in a comparative perspective (INFOPOL)
Politicians have to cope with an overload of information every day. They therefore have to make a selection and decide to which information they will attend and which they will ignore. The Infopol project aims to lay bare the selection mechanisms that politicians use to make these decisions. Getting to know these processes is important because attention to incoming information is a crucial resource in politics; political actors need to be aware of the problems in society and their potential solutions as well as the associated preferences of citizens. The inevitable sifting in incoming information will therefore make it more likely that certain problems, solutions and citizen-preferences are translated into political action. Moreover, without the attention of political actors problems do not gain agenda status and will therefore remain unsolved.
In unraveling the selection criteria politicians use to attend to certain information sources and not to others, the Infopol project takes several important factors into account: to which extent does the source of the information (for instance: media, organizations, citizens or colleagues) and the content features of information (negativity, the politicization of the issue) influence the selection by a politician? The characteristics of the politician is equally investigated as it is to be expected that elements such as the political function (MP, minister, party leader), the political experience and specialization lead to different information selection behavior.
An additional element that influences the choice to only attend to certain information, is the broader political system in which the political actor has to make these decision. The study taps into these influences by analyzing three countries – Belgium, Israel and Canada – that differ in terms of the electoral system, effective number of parties, as well as the district magnitude.
The Infopol project uses a mixed-method approach to research these topics. Politicians and their staffers are surveyed and interviewed to gauge their perception on the information streams and how they select certain information depending on a number of criteria. Official records of actual behavior by politicians form a second data source by collecting data about the actions of these politicians in parliament (e.g. questions, bill proposals and statements). Specific additional research questions are investigated by the use of vignette studies, experimental methods and process-tracing