Exploring Cognitive Mobilisation: The Slovak 2003 EU Accession Referendum
Abstract: The literature which explores public opinion formation processes in Central and Eastern Europe is divided into competing schools of thought; one, which presumes that inexperienced electorates in newly democratised states adopt the views of their preferred political elites, and another, which argues that voters employ individual cognitive resources when making political choices. This paper wishes to contribute to this field of research by testing Zaller’s (1992) model of opinion formation, which poses that the message environment will trigger voters to either rely on their awareness of the issue or political predispositions when they form opinions, depending on whether they are being exposed to one or two competing messages. This paper will apply a deduction of his model for one-way message environments, which assumes that level of awareness will determine whether voters support the dominant message, to see whether the model can explain attitudes to the EU in Slovakia during the 2003 accession referendum. The paper concludes that Slovak voters relied on partisanship as well as factors of awareness in the opinion formation process, and that Zaller’s hypotheses for opinion formation in mainstream message environments cannot be verifi ed by the Slovak case.
Keywords: Public opinion formation, support for EU membership, cognitive mobilisation, Slovakia, John Zaller