The Growing Divide: The Case of (Mis)Information and Polarization
46 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2020
Date Written: May 18, 2020
The divergence of political attitudes towards their ideological extremes has become an identifying feature of the political landscape in the United States. Very little is known about the source of this divergence, how large it is, whether information can attenuate these differences, and what its impact is on political support and civic engagement. We run a field experiment to recover a distribution of polarization for American constituents and find it is driven by beliefs rather than preferences. We randomly introduce factual information and show that it corrects these misaligned beliefs. Using this variation, we further estimate polarization's impact on a suite of outcomes, including government support, views about government efficiency, and the willingness to compromise. We document that increasing polarization results in an individual being 0.35 s.d. less supportive towards the government, believe the government is less efficient by 0.42 s.d., and are less willing to compromise and trust by 0.43 s.d. We do not find any significant changes when reducing polarization. This asymmetric response is consistent with the literature showing that negative information has a greater impact on attitudes and beliefs than does positive information.
Keywords: political polarization, misinformation, field experiment
JEL Classification: D61, D72, D83, H20
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation