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woman in blue shirt sitting at table smiling Lightning Talk by Andrea Robbett (Economics) was on Thursday, 1/19/23 from 12:45-1:45 PM ET in Lib 105 A/B and on Zoom.

Partisan Political Beliefs and Social Learning

Andrea Robbett (Economics) - Partisan Political Beliefs and Social Learning (Jan. 2023)

American politics is currently characterized by polarized beliefs about otherwise verifiable realities, a pathology often ascribed to the influence of “echo chambers” on like-minded partisans. Partisans may seek out the views of like-minded individuals for either instrumental reasons, that is, because co-partisans are presumed to know more, or for expressive reasons, to learn or confirm “partisan congenial” beliefs.

We conducted an online experiment to characterize the demand for, and use of, social information about political beliefs. We find that participants are responsive to the cues of both co-partisans and mixed partisan groups, but are less disposed to consult opposing partisans or to follow their beliefs. However, when a reliable source of outside information becomes available, participants are much less likely to seek social information of any kind, consistent with an instrumental rather than expressive motive.

In short, there is mistrust across partisan lines but also a willingness to consult social information in pursuit of “correct beliefs.” The further observation that those who do consult peers are not correct more often underscores the importance of reliable private information as a bulwark against some of the pernicious effects of echo chambers. (Paper joint with Middlebury Professor Peter Matthews and Middlebury alum Lily Colón, Class of 2020.5.)

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