Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 10 > Issue 4

Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs about Politics

John G. Bullock, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin, USA, john.bullock@utexas.edu , Alan S. Gerber, Department of Political Science, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, USA, alan.gerber@yale.edu , Seth J. Hill, Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, USA, sjhill@ucsd.edu , Gregory A. Huber, Department of Political Science, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, gregory.huber@yale.edu
Suggested Citation
John G. Bullock, Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill and Gregory A. Huber (2015), "Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs about Politics", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 10: No. 4, pp 519-578. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00014074

Publication Date: 17 Dec 2015
© 2015 J. G. Bullock, A. S. Gerber, S. J. Hill and G. A. Huber
Elections,  Formal modelling,  Political parties,  Political psychology


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In this article:
1. Theory and Prior Evidence 
2. A Theory of Expressive Survey Response 
3. Experiment 1: Effects of Incentives for Correct Responses on Partisan Divergence 
4. Experiment 2: Effects of Incentives for Correct and "Don't Know" Responses on Partisan Divergence 
5. Expressive Survey Response and the Relationship Between Facts and Votes 
6. Discussion and Conclusion 
Appendix: A Model of Expressive Survey Response 


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.