United States of Dissatisfaction: Confirmation Bias Across the Partisan Divide
- Daniel J. Acland, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
- Amy E. Lerman, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
- Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (April 2018)
Party polarization is a central feature of American political life, and a robust literature has shown that citizens engage in partisan-confirmation bias when processing political information. At the same time, however, recent events have highlighted a rising tide of anti-government populism that manifests on both sides of the aisle. In fact, data show that large proportions of both Democrats and Republicans hold negative views of government. Using an original set of survey experiments, we examine the psychology of public-sector evaluation. We find that citizens engage in a process of confirmation bias when they encounter new information, which is driven not by party and ideology but by beliefs about the quality and efficiency of government. Taken together, our findings suggest important limitations to citizens’ capacity to learn about public administration, and expand our understanding of what drives confirmation bias with respect to public and private service provision.