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More Accurate, But No Less Polarized: Comparing the Factual Beliefs of Government Officials and the Public

Date: 24/11/2020

Author(s): Nathan Lee, Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler, D.J. Flynn

Publication: British Journal of Political Science



Studies of the American public demonstrate that partisans often diverge not only on questions of opinion but also on matters of fact. However, little is known about partisan divergence in factual beliefs among the government officials who make real policy decisions, or how it compares to belief polarization among the public. This letter describes the first systematic comparison of factual belief polarization between the public and government officials, which we conducted using a paired survey approach. The results indicate that political elites are consistently more accurately informed than the public across a wide range of politically contentious facts. However, this increase in accuracy does not translate into reduced factual belief polarization. These findings demonstrate that a more informed political elite does not necessarily mitigate partisan factual disagreement in policy making.