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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Polarization of Reality

A. Alesina, A. Miano, and S. Stantcheva
American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings

Evidence is growing that Americans are polarized not only in their views on policy issues and attitudes towards government and society, but also in their perceptions of the same, factual reality.

In this paper we conceptualize how to think about the polarization of reality and review recent papers that show that Republican and Democrats as well as Trump and non-Trump voters since 2016) view the same reality through a different lens. Perhaps as a result, they hold different views about policies and what should be done to address different economic and social issues.

The direction of causality is unclear: On the one hand, individuals could select into political affiliation based on their perceptions of reality. On the other hand, political affiliation affects the information one receives, the groups one interacts with, and the media one is exposed to, which in turn can shape perceptions of reality.

Regardless of the direction of causality though, this is not about having different attitudes about economic or social phenomena or policies that could justifiably be viewed differently from different angles.

What is striking is rather to have different perceptions of realities that can be factually checked.

We highlight evidence about differences in perceptions across the political spectrum on social mobility, inequality, immigration, and public policies.

We also show that providing information leads to different reassessments of reality and different responses along the policy support margin, depending on one’s political leanings.

The paper can be downloaded here.