Friday, January 1, 2016

Partisan bias and its cure: money

Did unemployment get better or worse during Ronald Reagan’s presidency? In a 1988 survey, some 80 percent of dedicated Republicans accurately said it had improved, compared with 30 percent of loyal Democrats. In the 1990s, the pattern reversed on a range of factual questions about economic and fiscal issues. In a 1997 survey, for example, Republicans were far less likely than Democrats to acknowledge that the budget deficit had declined during the Bill Clinton administration. ...

But new research from two teams of political scientists adds a wrinkle to these findings. It turns out that the partisan bias in how people answer factual questions about the economy is diminished by this one weird trick: Pay people.

That is a conclusion reached in two new papers in The Quarterly Journal of Political Science, one from four scholars led by John G. Bullock at the University of Texas at Austin, the other by Markus Prior of Princeton and two colleagues.

When survey respondents were offered a small cash reward — a dollar or two — for producing a correct answer about the unemployment rate and other economic conditions, they were more likely to be accurate and less likely to produce an answer that fit their partisan biases. ...

The effect was even more pronounced when respondents were rewarded for honestly answering “I don’t know” when they didn’t have enough information. ...

The paper by Mr. Bullock, Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill and Gregory A. Huber found that offering a $1 payment for a correct response and a 33-cent payment for an answer of “Don’t know” eliminated the entire partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans on questions about the economy.
--Neil Irwin, NYT, on the value of skin in the game