When surveyed about economic conditions, supporters of the president's party often report more positive conditions than its opponents. Scholars have interpreted this finding to mean that partisans cannot even agree on matters of fact. We test an alternative interpretation: Partisans give partisan congenial answers even when they have, or could have inferred, information less flattering to the party they identify with. To test this hypothesis, we administered two surveys to nationally representative samples, experimentally manipulating respondents' motivation to be accurate via monetary incentives and on-screen appeals. Both treatments reduced partisan differences in reports of economic conditions significantly. Many partisans interpret factual questions about economic conditions as opinion questions, unless motivated to see them otherwise. Typical survey conditions thus reveal a mix of what partisans know about the economy, and what they would like to be true.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sociology and Political Science
- Political Science and International Relations