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More Accurate, But No Less Polarized: Comparing the Factual Beliefs of Government Officials and the Public

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2020

Nathan Lee
Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA
Brendan Nyhan*
Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA
Jason Reifler
University of Exeter, UK
D. J. Flynn
IE School of Global and Public Affairs, Madrid, Spain
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


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.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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