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Misperceptions, Competition, and Support for Democracy: Are Meta-Perception Corrections Effective? (WP-22-46)

James Druckman

A growing consensus suggests that an underlying cause of anti-democratic attitudes and support for partisan violence is that partisans misperceive the other side. That is, they vastly exaggerate the extent to which members of the other party are obstructionist, anti-democratic, and supportive of violence. When these misperceptions are corrected, citizens’ own beliefs moderate. Yet, what happens when misperception corrections compete with contrary information that reinforces the initial misperception? Such competition defines most democratic environments and can come in the form of questioning the validity of the correction or conflicting information. Druckman hypothesizes that such competition undermines the efficacy of corrections. He tests his predictions with a survey experiment in the U.S. The results reveal that correcting misperceptions does not constitute a robust way to counter democratic backsliding among citizens; it is an ironic victim of competitive information environments. He discusses the implications and the need to address pressing questions such as the extent to which democratic stability rests on moral commitments or self-enforcing equilibria reached by instrumental actors.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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