The Growing Divide: The Case of (Mis)Information and Polarization

46 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2020

See all articles by Trent McNamara

Trent McNamara

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics

Roberto Mosquera

Universidad de las Americas - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 18, 2020

Abstract

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

McNamara, Trent and Mosquera, Roberto, The Growing Divide: The Case of (Mis)Information and Polarization (May 18, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3604566 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3604566

Trent McNamara (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

5201 University Blvd.
College Station, TX 77843-4228
United States

Roberto Mosquera

Universidad de las Americas - Department of Economics ( email )

De los Granados y De los Colimes, Esquina
Quito, Pichincha 170102
Ecuador

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
31
Abstract Views
352
PlumX Metrics