Anti-Democratic Attitudes and Support for Partisan Violence: Are Misperceptions to Blame?

November 30, 2022
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This event is part of the Speaker Series on Misinformation, co-sponsored by the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School and the NULab at Northeastern University.

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 believe members of the out party are extreme, obstructionist, and anti-democratic. When these misperceptions are corrected, citizens’ own beliefs tend to 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 relevant information. Professor Druckman explored the impact competition over corrections with a large-scale experiment in the U.S. The results revealed that correcting misperceptions is not a robust way to counter democratic backsliding among citizens – instead, it is an ironic victim of competitive information environments. In this presentation, Professor Druckman discusses the implications for pluralism and efforts to strengthen democracy.

James N. Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. He is also an Honorary Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University in Denmark. His research focuses on political preference formation and communication. His work examines how citizens make political, economic, and social decisions in various contexts (e.g., settings with multiple competing messages, online information, deliberation). He also researches the relationship between citizens’ preferences and public policy and the polarization of American society.