Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion Among American Political Elites

Forthcoming in American Political Science Review

98 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2017 Last revised: 3 Oct 2017

See all articles by David E. Broockman

David E. Broockman

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Political Science

Christopher Skovron

Northwestern University - Institute for Policy Research

Date Written: October 3, 2017

Abstract

The conservative asymmetry of elite polarization represents a significant puzzle. We argue that politicians can maintain systematic misperceptions of constituency opinion that may contribute to breakdowns in dyadic representation. We demonstrate this argument with original surveys of 3,765 politicians' perceptions of constituency opinion on nine issues. In 2012 and 2014, state legislative politicians from both parties dramatically overestimated their constituents' support for conservative policies on these issues, a pattern consistent across methods, districts, and states. Republicans drive much of this overestimation. Exploiting responses from politicians in the same district, we confirm these partisan differences within individual districts. Further evidence suggests that this overestimation may arise due to biases in who contacts politicians, as in recent years Republican citizens have been especially likely to contact legislators, especially fellow Republicans. Our findings suggest a novel force can operate in elections and in legislatures: politicians can systematically misperceive what their constituents want.

Suggested Citation

Broockman, David E. and Skovron, Christopher, Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion Among American Political Elites (October 3, 2017). Forthcoming in American Political Science Review, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2930362 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2930362

David E. Broockman (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.davidbroockman.com

Christopher Skovron

Northwestern University - Institute for Policy Research ( email )

2003 Sheridan Rd
Evanston, IL 60208-2600
United States

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