Monday, November 7, 2016

What you "know" about society affects your policies

A 1995 survey asked an unusual battery of questions, focusing on substantive knowledge about the well-being of different groups of Americans. Respondents were asked if African Americans were at least as well off as the average white in six domains—income, housing, education, health care, jobs, and risk of job loss. The empirical evidence on all of these points is clear; the correct answer is no for each.
Many respondents were, however factually mistaken in answering these questions. Roughly three in five whites agreed that African Americans are as well off or better off than whites with regard to their jobs or risk of job loss, access to health care, and education; more than two in five said the same with regard to inc one and housing (only 14-32 percent of African Americans, depending on the arena in question, were similarly misinformed).
Misinformation was systematically associated with a distinctive policy stance. Compared to those with correct information, white respondents who were misinformed on at least one item were more likely to favor a balanced federal budget, cuts in personal income taxes, tax breaks for businesses, limits on abortion, and limits to affirmative action; there was no difference between the two groups on welfare reform and reforming Medicare. Overall, misinformed white respondents supported policies that were racially and fiscally more conservative than were the policy views of the correctly informed.
In short, some Americans hold incorrect "knowledge" that is associated with distinctive involvement with the public arena. We label this third group the "active" or "engaged misinformed." Here, too, the label only begins to identify a group around whom questions swirl: Why do they hold misinformation? Are their mistaken opinions causally linked, in either direction, to their distinctive political and policy views or activities? Can they be taught the facts, and is it worth the effort? How and how much does their activity affect democratic decision making?
Jennifer L. Hochschild & Katherine Levine Einstein, Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in American Politics (Norman, Okla.: Univ. Of Oklahoma Press, 2015), ch. 1.

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