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Monday, July 12, 2010

Knowledge and Politics

In our chapter on public opinion and participation, we note studies suggesting that Americans do not know as much about politics and policy as one might want in a deliberative democracy. An article in The Boston Globe adds some detail:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
In the field of economics, two researchers have come up with an equally disturbing result. Analyzing a December 2008 Zogby International nationwide survey of 4,385 American adults, they found:
[F]or people inclined to take such a survey, basic economic enlightenment is not correlated with going to college. We also show economic enlightenment by ideological groups, and we show that the finding about education holds up even when we look within each ideological group (with perhaps the exception of the “conservative” group).
(One of the authors also had a recent Wall Street Journal article on their findings about ideology and economic knowledge.)