Markus Prior (Princeton)
4:10 pm - 5:30 pm
Abstract: On factual survey questions about economic conditions, opponents of the president often report significantly worse economic performance than supporters of the president. Scholars have so far interpreted this finding to mean that partisan respondents cannot even agree on matters of fact. We test an alternative interpretation: Partisans give the partisan congenial answer even when they have, or could have inferred, information less flattering to their partisan identification. To test this hypothesis, we experimentally manipulated respondents' motivation to be accurate by either offering them a monetary incentive, or by emphasizing the importance of an accurate answer to researchers in two nationally representative surveys. Both treatments reduce partisan differences in reports of economic conditions by about half. Many partisans interpret knowledge questions about economic conditions as opinion questions, unless motivated otherwise. Typical survey conditions thus reveal a mix of what partisans know about the economy and what they would like to be true about it.