'It Isn't What We Don't Know that Gives Us Trouble, It's What We Know that Ain't So:' Misinformation and Democratic Politics

British Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming

10 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2014

See all articles by Jennifer L. Hochschild

Jennifer L. Hochschild

Harvard University; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Katherine Levine Einstein

Boston University

Date Written: July 31, 2014

Abstract

Political theorists and activists insist that the public must be knowledgeable for a democracy to succeed. However, many citizens are ignorant of relevant facts, hold correct information but do not make policy choices that accord with it, or – most importantly, we argue – hold misinformation that is associated with their policy preferences. We explore the dangers to the quality of democratic governance from those who are informed but disengaged and, especially, those who are engaged but use false “knowledge.” Our case is global warming.

Poll data show the extent of Americans’ misinformation about or disengagement with climate change. The main responsibility for these problems lies with politicians, who have partisan incentives to help the disengaged become active but also partisan incentives to keep the misinformed politically involved. Activity in accord with false “knowledge” can not only slow needed responses to global warming but also lead to concrete harm to individuals, communities, and nations.

Keywords: information, misinformation, public opinion, global warming, democratic governance, partisanship

Suggested Citation

Hochschild, Jennifer L. and Einstein, Katherine Levine, 'It Isn't What We Don't Know that Gives Us Trouble, It's What We Know that Ain't So:' Misinformation and Democratic Politics (July 31, 2014). British Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2476031

Jennifer L. Hochschild (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-0181 (Phone)
617-495-0438 (Fax)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Katherine Levine Einstein

Boston University ( email )

232 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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