The transfer of political information by the media, although indirectly and conditionally, can lead citizens to adjust their opinions about politics.
Matthijs Elenbaas examined the effect of information transmission by the media on the information acquisition and changes in information related political evaluations among citizens. In addition, he looked to what extent and under what conditions this effect is conditioned by individual properties that facilitate the admissibility for new information.
While it is often assumed that citizens are primarily guided by cues and persuasive strategies of political elites, and ignoring facts, Elenbaas suggests that citizens are able to learn actual political information and to apply it if they have access to that information. That is no reason for unbridled optimism about the capacities of citizens for making 'enlightened' political choices. It is however a hopeful indication that citizens function more competently when they have sufficient opportunities in their media environment to be confronted with relevant information.
This precondition of the ‘availability of information’, which in many situations is not or hardly fulfilled, is of particular interest. Elenbaas claims that citizens are often criticized for being poorly informed and having ill-informed political opinions, while the information environment in which these citizens function is often disregarded.
Although citizens have a personal responsibility to become informed, Elenbaas underlines that the quality of public opinion (and thus the quality of the democracy) is not only the product of the individual characteristics of citizens, but also of the political and informational environment in which they live and of which they are largely dependent.