Economists and Public Opinion: Expert Consensus and Economic Policy Judgments

41 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2014

Date Written: August 12, 2014


Given an increasing presence in the public sphere, what role do economic experts play in shaping public opinion on economic issues? In this paper, we examine the responsiveness of American public opinion on five economic policy issues to real information regarding the distribution of opinion on these issues among economists. We also examine the extent and role of trust in economists within the public. On average, we find meaningful changes in public opinion in the direction of expert consensus when citizens are given explicit information about expert opinion. However, we also find heterogeneity in citizen responsiveness across issues, such that aggregate opinion change is smaller on symbolic policy issues relative to technical ones. Further, on symbolic (but not technical) issues we find that citizens use judgments of the trustworthiness of economic experts in a motivated fashion, as a means of reinforcing prior opinions.

Keywords: public opinion; economic policy; economists; scientific consensus; motivated reasoning

Suggested Citation

Johnston, Christopher David and Ballard, Andrew, Economists and Public Opinion: Expert Consensus and Economic Policy Judgments (August 12, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Christopher David Johnston (Contact Author)

Duke University ( email )

Department of Political Science
Box 90204
Durham, NC 27708
United States


Andrew Ballard

Duke University ( email )

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