Systematically Biased Beliefs About Political Influence: Evidence from the Perceptions of Political Influence on Policy Outcomes Survey

25 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2013 Last revised: 21 Apr 2013

Bryan Caplan

George Mason University - Center for Study of Public Choice

Eric Crampton

University of Canterbury - Economics and Finance

Wayne A. Grove

Le Moyne College - Department of Economics

Ilya Somin

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: March 28, 2013

Abstract

Many scholars argue that "retrospective voting" is a powerful information shortcut that offsets widespread voter ignorance. Even relatively ignorant voters, it is claimed, can punish incumbents for bad performance and reward them if things go well. But if voters' understanding of which officials are responsible for which issues is systematically biased, retrospective voting becomes an independent source of political failure rather than a cure for it. We designed and administered a new survey of the general public and political experts to test for such biases. Our analysis reveals frequent, large, robust biases in voter attributions of responsibility for a wide array of political actors and outcomes, with an overarching tendency for the public to overestimate influence, though there are also important examples of underestimation.

Keywords: Achen, Bartels, beliefs, budget, Congress, Cutler, economy, education, failure, Federal Reserve Board, federalism, government, ignorance, informed, lay versus expert opinion, peace, policies, politics, polls, president, prosperity, responsibility attribution, results, safety, success, voter bias

JEL Classification: D72, F51, H11, H73, H77, I28, K42

Suggested Citation

Caplan, Bryan and Crampton, Eric and Grove, Wayne A. and Somin, Ilya, Systematically Biased Beliefs About Political Influence: Evidence from the Perceptions of Political Influence on Policy Outcomes Survey (March 28, 2013). PS: Political Science & Politics, Forthcoming; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 13-24; GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 13-09. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2241024

Bryan Caplan (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Center for Study of Public Choice ( email )

Fairfax, VA 22030
United States
703-993-2324 (Phone)
703-993-2323 (Fax)

Eric Crampton

University of Canterbury - Economics and Finance ( email )

Private Bag 4800
Christchurch
New Zealand
64 3 364 2824 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.econ.canterbury.ac.nz/personal_pages/eric_crampton

Wayne A. Grove

Le Moyne College - Department of Economics ( email )

1419 Salt Springs Road
Syraucse, NY 13214

HOME PAGE: http://webserver.lemoyne.edu/grovewa/

Ilya Somin

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-8069 (Phone)
703-993-8124 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://sls.gmu.edu/ilya-somin/

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