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Public Opin Q. 2016 Spring;80(1):90-113. Epub 2015 Dec 31.

Sticker Shock: How Information Affects Citizen Support for Public School Funding.

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B eth E. S chueler is a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. M artin R. W est is an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. William Howell and Paul Peterson collaborated with Martin West to design the survey experiments presented in this paper and offered valuable input into the analysis. The authors also thank Richard Murnane, John Willett, Matthew Kraft, Christopher Jencks, Hunter Gehlbach, Greg Duncan, Amitabh Chandra, and participants in the Harvard University Inequality & Social Policy Proseminar and the Harvard Graduate School of Education Quantitative Methods for Causal Inference course for helpful comments and discussions. Beth Schueler's work on this paper has been supported by funding from the Harvard University Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy and the Bradley Foundation. The collection of survey data was supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Paul E. Peterson and M. R. W.


This study examines the role of information in shaping public opinion in the context of support for education spending. While there is broad public support for increasing government funding for public schools, Americans tend to underestimate what is currently spent. We embed a series of experiments in a nationally representative survey administered in 2012 (n = 2,993) to examine whether informing citizens about current levels of education spending alters public opinion about whether funding should increase. Providing information on per-pupil spending in a respondent's local school district reduces the probability that he or she will express support for increasing spending by 22 percentage points on average. Informing respondents about state-average teacher salaries similarly depresses support for salary increases. These effects are larger among respondents who underestimate per-pupil spending and teacher salaries by a greater amount, consistent with the idea that the observed changes in opinion are driven, at least in part, by informational effects, as opposed to priming alone.

[Available on 2017-03-01]

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