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Studies of the American public demonstrate that partisans often diverge not only on questions of opinion but also on matters of fact. However, little is known about partisan divergence in factual beliefs among the government officials who make real policy decisions, or how it compares to belief polarization among the public. This letter describes the first systematic comparison of factual belief polarization between the public and government officials, which we conducted using a paired survey approach. The results indicate that political elites are consistently more accurately informed than the public across a wide range of politically contentious facts. However, this increase in accuracy does not translate into reduced factual belief polarization. These findings demonstrate that a more informed political elite does not necessarily mitigate partisan factual disagreement in policy making.
Majorities of citizens in high-income countries often oppose foreign aid spending. One popular explanation is that the public overestimates the percentage and amount of taxpayer funds that goes toward overseas aid. Does expressing aid flows in dollar and/or percentage terms shift public opinion toward aid? We report the results of an experiment examining differences in support for aid spending as a function of the information American and British respondents receive about foreign aid spending. In both nations, providing respondents with information about foreign aid spending as a percentage of the national budget significantly reduces support for cuts. The findings suggest that support for aid can be increased, but significant opposition to aid spending remains.
Misinformation can be very difficult to correct and may have lasting effects even after it is discredited. One reason for this persistence is the manner in which people make causal inferences based on available information about a given event or outcome. As a result, false information may continue to influence beliefs and attitudes even after being debunked if it is not replaced by an alternate causal explanation. We test this hypothesis using an experimental paradigm adapted from the psychology literature on the continued influence effect and find that a causal explanation for an unexplained event is significantly more effective than a denial even when the denial is backed by unusually strong evidence. This result has significant implications for how to most effectively counter misinformation about controversial political events and outcomes.