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What policy actors believe in - How do voters and members of parliament judge the credibility of expert statements?

English title What policy actors believe in - How do voters and members of parliament judge the credibility of expert statements?
Applicant Balthasar Andreas
Number 175718
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Seminar für Gesundheitswissenschaften und Gesundheitspolitik Universität Luzern
Institution of higher education University of Lucerne - LU
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.01.2018 - 31.10.2021
Approved amount 310'011.00
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Keywords (7)

multifactorial survey experiment; credibility; expert knowledge; public policy; information processing; health policy; evidence-based policy

Lay Summary (German)

Expertenwissen ist eine wichtige Informationsquelle für politische Entscheidungsträger/-innen. Doch damit Expertenwissen nützlich sein kann, muss es glaubwürdig sein. Das Projekt untersucht, wann Expertenwissen als glaubwürdig wahrgenommen wird. Es vergleicht diesbezüglich Parlamentarier/-innen mit Wähler/-innen.
Lay summary
Inhalt und Ziele des Forschungsprojekts
Die Rolle in politischen Prozessen wird in der Literatur oft kritisch diskutiert. Es besteht jedoch kein Zweifel daran, dass Expertenwissen eine wichtige Art von politikrelevanten Informationen für Entscheidungsträger/-innen darstellt. Dies gilt vor allem in Situationen hoher Unsicherheit, in denen sich Entscheidungsträger/-innen nicht auf ihr Vorwissen oder ihre Intuition verlassen können.
Das Forschungsprojekt untersucht die Einflussfaktoren auf die Wahrnehmung der Glaubwürdigkeit von Expertenaussagen bei Wähler/-innen und Parlamentarier/-innen und es vergleicht die Ergebnisse der zwei Gruppen. Wir verwenden einen experimentellen Befragungsansatz. Es wird erwartet, dass die Wahrnehmung der Glaubwürdigkeit einer Expertenaussage sowohl von der Quelle als auch von den Eigenschaften einer Botschaft abhängt. Darüber hinaus dürfte Wahrnehmung der Glaubwürdigkeit von Expertenaussagen auch zwischen den Empfängern solcher Informationen variieren, da diese beispielsweise über unterschiedliche Erfahrungen in der Verarbeitung von Expertenwissen verfügen.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext
Die Ergebnisse des Projekts sollen dazu beitragen, die Frage zu beantworten, wem Parlamentarier/-innen sowie Wähler/-innen glauben und was sie glauben. Vor dem Hintergrund der jüngsten Debatten um eine "postfaktische" Gesellschaft hat das Projekt auch wichtige normative Implikationen: Es analysiert die Autorität der Wissenschaft in der Politik.

multifactorial survey experiment, credibility, expert knowledge, public policy, information processing, health policy, evidence-based policy
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 15.12.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
141893 Policy Evaluation in the Swiss Political System - Roots and Fruits 01.01.2013 Sinergia


The definition of expert knowledge and its potential role in political processes are often discussed quite critically among scholars in knowledge utilization (KU) and evidence-based policy-making (EBPM). However, there is little doubt that expert knowledge is an important type of policy relevant information. Especially in situations of high uncertainty, expert knowledge can be a powerful resource for political decision-makers such as voters and members of parliament (MPs). In such situations, prior knowledge and intuition often fail to provide sufficient guidance. However, voters and MPs will not rely on any expertise. Prior research identifies the credibility of expert knowledge as a key explanatory variable for knowledge use. Yet, scholars often view credibility of expert knowledge as a given fact. Furthermore, the focus has mainly been on expertise provided by scientists. We argue that credibility is not inherent in but rather bestowed to expert knowledge by its audience. Moreover, experts can be found in various parts of society (e.g. administration, private sector) and need not be affiliated to academia. The degree to which credibility varies depending on who provides it and what is provided has largely been neglected in political science. The planned project aims at closing this gap and seeks to answer the following questions: 1) When uncertainty is high, do voters and MPs judge the credibility of expert statements rather by what is said (i.e. quality and content of statement) or by whom it is said (i.e. source)? 2) How do credibility judgements vary, depending on the issue structure (i.e. degree of value consensus)? 3) How do voters and MPs differ with regard to credibility judgements?The project aims to develop and test a theoretical framework of credibility judgements of voters and MPs. Individual credibility judgements are understood as a function of the expert statement, the degree of value conflict triggered by the issue at stake, the receiver under observation, and the interaction between these components. We depart from a broad definition of what constitutes an expert and differentiate between academic experts (e.g. affiliated to universities), administration experts, and stakeholder experts (e.g. affiliated to interest groups). The focus is on person-bound knowledge (i.e. expert statements) that contains information with regard to the effectiveness of a solution. Thus, we focus on knowledge about ‘what works’ - the original core of EBPM. We investigate how the expert’s affiliation affects the credibility judgements compared to the quality and content of the expert statement and how these judgements change depending on the issue structure. Two different issue structures are compared: an uncertain issue with value disagreement and one with value consensus. The two issues are selected from the field of health care policy - a policy field in which expertise is highly valued. Finally, we investigate differences between voters and MPs. Only little is known on how MPs process information and how they differ from voters. Likewise, insights into how voters process expert knowledge are scarce. The latter point is of particular importance in participatory contexts such as Switzerland, where the political system places high informational demands on the citizens. Empirically, we collect novel data among voters and MPs in Switzerland by using innovative survey techniques. The dependent variable (i.e. credibility judgements of expert statements) is difficult to assess with standard survey questions as it consists of different dimensions - namely the source, the quality and the content - that individuals in reality will evaluate jointly. Therefore, the project will rely on an experimental online survey approach applied to a random sample of the Swiss electorate and a sample of MPs in Switzerland. The results will be discussed with the international partners to set the findings in a broader context. From a normative point of view, the proposed project allows us to gain insight into whose and what ‘truth’ is perceived as most credible (Wildavsky, 1979) and to what degree once traditional authorities (i.e. science) are losing authority among MPs and the public. The project also taps in debates to which degree knowledge about ‘what works’ can be apolitical or objective and thus credible (Robert & Zeckhauser, 2011). The proposed project thus contributes to prior research from a theoretical, empirical and normative point of view.