Systematically Biased Beliefs about Political Influence: Evidence from the Perceptions of Political Influence on Policy Outcomes Survey

BRYAN CAPLAN, ERIC CRAMPTON, WAYNE A. GROVE AND ILYA SOMIN
PS: POLITICAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS 46.4 (2013): 760-767

Abstract: Many scholars argue that retrospective voting is a powerful information shortcut that offsets widespread voter ignorance. Even deeply ignorant voters, it is claimed, can effectively punish incumbents for bad performance and reward them if things go well. But if voters’ understanding of which officials are responsible for which outcomes is systematically biased, retrospective voting becomes an independent source of political failure rather than a cure for it. The authors design and administer a new survey of the general public and political experts to test for such biases. Their analysis reveals frequent, large, robust biases in voter attributions of responsibility for a variety of political actors and outcomes with a tendency for the public to overestimate influence, although important examples of underestimation also exist.