Do Citizens Penalize Politicians for Broken Promises? Evidence from Four Experiments
(with Alon Zoizner)
A large literature argues that campaign promises play an important role in the electoral process. However, less attention has been given to the way individual voters process information about broken promises. We adopt a motivated reasoning framework and ask: (a) Do citizens respond differently to promises broken by ingroup versus outgroup politicians? (b) If so, what reasoning strategies enable this bias? Using four well- powered experiments covering two countries, real and fictitious leaders and promises, and both partisan and bipartisan issues, we find limited evidence that citizens sanction politicians who break their promises: individuals downplay and justify pledges broken by ingroup politicians, and their evaluations of outgroup politicians remain very low regardless of their promises. Results also suggest that broken promises can matter, but only in (less realistic) scenarios involving a fictitious leader. Overall, our results suggest campaign promises may have a more limited influence on political attitudes than previously thought.
Do People Learn About Politics on Social Media? A Meta-Analysis of Seventy-Six Studies
(with Alon Zoizner)
Citizens turn increasingly to social media to get their political information. However, it is currently unclear whether using these platforms actually makes them more politically knowledgeable. While some researchers claim that social media play a critical role in the learning of political information within the modern media environment, others posit that the great potential for learning about politics on social media is rarely fulfilled. The current study tests which of these conflicting theoretical claims is supported by the existing empirical literature. A pre-registered meta-analysis of 76 studies (N = 442,136) reveals no evidence of any political learning on social media in observational studies, and statistically significant but substantively small increases in knowledge in experiments. These small-to-nonexistent knowledge gains are observed across social media platforms, types of knowledge, countries, and periods. Our findings suggest that the contribution of social media toward a more politically informed citizenry is minimal.
The Causal Effect of Candidate Extremity on Citizens’ Preferences: Evidence from Conjoint Experiments
(with Alon Zoizner)
Previous studies demonstrate that politicians’ issue positions and rhetorical styles have grown increasingly extreme. It remains unclear, however, whether extremity pays off electorally. To investigate whether citizens penalize or reward candidates who take extreme issue positions and adopt an extreme rhetorical style, we conducted two pre-registered conjoint experiments in the U.S. (N = 2,006) and Israel (N = 1,999). In both experiments, participants chose between candidates who varied randomly in their issue position extremity, rhetorical extremity, and several other personal attributes. The results are consistent in showing that extremity is costly for candidates. In both countries, citizens penalize both in-party and out-party candidates for extreme positions and rhetoric. On average, extremity decreases candidate favorability by 16 percentage points, an effect larger than those of all other candidate attributes examined. We conclude that when given a choice, citizens prefer moderate politicians over extreme ones.
Factual Knowledge Can Reduce Attitude Polarization
(with Nick Stagnaro)
It is commonly argued that factual knowledge about a political issue increases attitude polarization due to politically motivated reasoning. By this account, individuals ignore counter-attitudinal facts and direct their attention to pro-attitudinal facts; reject counter-attitudinal facts when directly confronted with them; and use pro-attitudinal facts to counterargue, all making them more polarized. The observation that more knowledgeable partisans are often more polarized is widely taken as support for this account. Yet these data are only correlational. Here, we directly test the causal effect of increasing issue-relevant knowledge on attitude polarization. Specifically, we randomize whether N = 1,011 participants receive a large, credible set of both pro- and counter-attitudinal facts on a contentious political topic – gun control – and provide a modest incentive for them to learn this information. We find clear evidence that people (1) engage at high rates with both pro- and counter-attitudinal content; (2) learn policy-relevant facts both for and against their initial attitudes; and, most importantly, (c) this increased engagement with and consumption of factual knowledge shifts individuals towards more moderate policy attitudes, a durable effect that is still visible after one month. Our results suggest that the impact of motivated reasoning on political cognition might be more limited than previously thought.