Skip to main content

Correcting Exaggerated Meta-Perceptions Reduces American Legislators’ Support for Undemocratic Practices (WP-23-04)

James Druckman, Suji Kang, James Chu, Michael Stagnaro, Jan Voelkel, Joseph Mernyk, Sophia Pink, Chrystal Redekopp, David Rand, and Robb Willer

There is substantial concern about democratic backsliding in the United States. Evidence includes notably high levels of support for undemocratic practices among the public. Much less is known, however, about the views of elected officials – even though they influence democratic outcomes more directly. In a survey experiment with state legislators, the researchers show that these officials exhibit much lower levels of support for undemocratic practices than the public. However, legislators vastly overestimate the undemocratic views of voters from the other party (though not the views of their own party’s voters). These inaccurate “meta-perceptions” are significantly reduced when legislators receive accurate information about the views of voters from the other party, suggesting that legislators’ own support for undemocratic practices are causally linked to their inaccurate meta-perceptions of other-party voters. The researchers’ findings highlight the importance of ensuring office holders have access to reliable information about voters from both parties.

NOTE: This working paper is currently unavailable due to its publication status.

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

Suji Kang, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

James Chu, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

Michael Stagnaro, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Management Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jan Voelkel, Department of Sociology, Stanford University 

Joseph Mernyk, Department of Sociology, Stanford University

Sophia Pink, Operations, Information and Decisions Department, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Chrystal Redekopp, Research Director, Polarization and Social Change Lab, Stanford University

David Rand, Erwin H. Schell Professor and Professor of Management Science and Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Robb Willer, Professor of Sociology and Director, Polarization and Social Change Lab, Stanford University