Political Science

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What is a political cue?

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The term "political cue" is one that has a different meaning for political professionals than members of the voting public. To the former, it refers to any signal that reveals to a legislator what values are at stake in a upcoming vote, how it fits with their own political positions and, more broadly, with their party's agenda. It also indicates which groups might be for or against the legislation, and who is most likely to experience concrete gains or losses, as a result. Most politicians have a natural instinct for reading political cues, but also rely on staff research to avoid being blind-sided on specific issues.

In the case of voters who are attempting to make a decision on a given issue or candidate that accords with their values, political cues are abundant during election season. But some research has demonstrated that the influence of such cues is largely dependent on the type of issue in question. The researchers contrast "hot-button" issues, such as flag-burning or abortion, which evoke strong emotions, with those requiring more specific knowledge, such as climate change, economics, or foreign affairs. In terms of decision-making effort, they classify the emotional issues as "easy" and the more technical issues as "hard." When making political decisions, the public rarely uses political cues on the "easy" issues, but more often will take a shortcut and rely on such cues when it comes to "hard" issues.

In sum, a political cue is a signal about both the value represented by a particular issue or piece of legislation, and its likely consequences.

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The term “political cue” generally means a piece of information that helps a person decide how to vote.  The term can be used in the context of individual voters or in the context of members of Congress.  Individual voters get political cues about how to vote from people they respect.  This might be their pastor or the leader of their labor union, for example.  Members of Congress can get political cues from various places.  They can get them from their party leadership.  They can also get political cues from lobbyists or other interest group representatives.

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