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Correcting Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion Among American Elected Officials: Results from Two Field Experiments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2020

Joshua L. Kalla*
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science and Department of Statistics and Data Science, Yale University, USA
Ethan Porter
Affiliation:
School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University, USA
*
*Corresponding author. E-mail: josh.kalla@yale.edu

Abstract

While concerns about the public's receptivity to factual information are widespread, much less attention has been paid to the factual receptivity, or lack thereof, of elected officials. Recent survey research has made clear that US legislators and legislative staff systematically misperceive their constituents' opinions on salient public policies. This study reports the results from two field experiments designed to correct misperceptions of sitting US legislators. The legislators (n = 2,346) were invited to access a dashboard of constituent opinion generated using the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. Despite extensive outreach efforts, only 11 per cent accessed the information in Study 1 and only 2.3 per cent did so in Study 2. More troubling for democratic norms, legislators who accessed constituent opinion data were no more accurate at perceiving their constituents' opinions. The findings underscore the challenges confronting efforts to improve the accuracy of elected officials' perceptions and suggest that elected officials may indeed resist factual information.

Type
Letter
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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