Friday, February 2, 2024

Unelected elites such as lobbyists, civil servants, journalists, and the like overestimate a lot how much the general population agrees with their own political views

The people think what I think: False consensus and unelected elite misperception of public opinion. Alexander C. Furnas, Timothy M. LaPira. American J of Pol Sci, January 24 2024.

Abstract: Political elites must know and rely faithfully on the public will to be democratically responsive. Recent work on elite perceptions of public opinion shows that reelection-motivated politicians systematically misperceive the opinions of their constituents to be more conservative than they are. We extend this work to a larger and broader set of unelected political elites such as lobbyists, civil servants, journalists, and the like, and report alternative empirical findings. These unelected elites hold similarly inaccurate perceptions about public opinion, though not in a single ideological direction. We find this elite population exhibits egocentrism bias, rather than partisan confirmation bias, as their perceptions about others' opinions systematically correspond to their own policy preferences. Thus, we document a remarkably consistent false consensus effect among unelected political elites, which holds across subsamples by party, occupation, professional relevance of party affiliation, and trust in party-aligned information sources.


Our tests of competing explanations for these misperceptions are robust and consistent: Unelected political elites demonstrate a false consensus effect in their estimates of public opinion. Simply, elites believe that the policies they support are more popular among the general public than they actually are, and that the policies they oppose are less popular than they actually are. This relationship is true regardless of the elite's party identification, professional specialization, or information environment.

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