Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs about Politics


John G. Bullock, Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill and Gregory A. Huber

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Bullock, John G., Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill and Gregory A. Huber (2015). Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs about Politics. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 10:519-578. DOI 10.1561/100.00014074
Partisanship seems to affect factual beliefs about politics. For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the deficit rose during the Clinton administration; Democrats are more likely to say that inflation rose under Reagan. What remains unclear is whether such patterns reflect differing beliefs among partisans or instead reflect a desire to praise one party or criticize another. To shed light on this question, we present a model of survey response in the presence of partisan cheerleading and payments for correct and “don’t know” responses. We design two experiments based on the model’s implications. The experiments show that small payments for correct and “don’t know” answers sharply diminish the gap between Democrats and Republicans in responses to “partisan” factual questions. Our conclusion is that the apparent gulf in factual beliefs between members of different parties may be more illusory than real. The experiments also bolster and extend a major finding about political knowledge in America: we show (as others have) that Americans know little about politics, but we also show that they often recognize their own lack of knowledge.
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Link to article here.

An earlier version of this paper was circulated as NBER Working Paper 19080 and can be found here.

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