Epistemic Closure or Getting the Answer Wrong for the Team?
Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog highlights an intriguing study of partisan influences over knowledge: If you pay them money, partisans will tell you the truth
One of the most infamous and dispiriting findings in recent political science research is that partisans can’t even agree on basic facts, at least when those facts bear on politics. Princeton’s Larry Bartels found that, in 1988, Democrats were much less likely than Republicans to correctly answer questions about whether inflation went down under President Ronald Reagan (it did) and whether unemployment also fell (it did)
Subsequent research found that correcting these kinds of errors actually made the situation worse. Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and Jason Reifler of Georgia State found that Republicans presented with news articles pointing out that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that such weapons were found than Republicans who didn’t read those articles. The truth, in other words, triggered a partisan backlash.
However, a new study indicates that perhaps the issue less about true misunderstanding of the facts than it is about signaling partisan preferences:
Answering incorrectly, under this view, is just a way to register an opinion in the survey, not an expression of what the survey respondent actually believes. Partisans aren’t closed off from reality, by this theory. They’re just lying.
Political scientists John Bullock, Alan Gerber, Gregory Huber (all at Yale) and Seth Hill (at UC-San Diego) have a new paper that presents strong evidence for the they’re-just-liars theory.
The authors conclude that false answers — like Democrats saying that casualties in Iraq increased from 2007 to 2008 — are just cheap talk, a way to signal a party affiliation rather than a sincere belief.
I would recommend reading the whole post.