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Emily Thorson Discusses the Impact of Policy Misinformation on the Science of Politics Podcast

July 11, 2024

Niskanen Center

Emily Thorson

Emily Thorson

We have overestimated the influence of partisan misinformation during political campaigns. But that doesn’t mean we’re well-informed. Americans know little about important public policy issues and they “know” things that aren’t so.

Emily Thorson, assistant professor of political science, finds that Americans concoct information about current policy to match what they think they know. It’s not that they are fed misinformation but that the media report little about the details of current policy, leaving voters to make up the facts. Correcting this misinformation about existing policy can make a difference and help Americans evaluate new proposals for policy change.

“The media doesn’t tend to cover current policy nearly as much as it covers policy conflict, policy outcomes. And so the basic information about existing policy just doesn’t get out there,” says Thorson.

“And what that means is that people kind of try to figure it out on their own. They engage in inductive reasoning to try to figure out how social security works, how refugee admission works, and often they get it wrong,” she says.

“But the good news is that these misperceptions are really correctable. People process the corrections, they understand them, and they even recall them up to a month later,” says Thorson. “And they also, correcting these types of misperceptions seems to have downstream effects on attitudes. So when people find out how many of these public policies actually work, they become more supportive of them.”

Listen to the Niskanen Center's “The Science of Politics” podcast or read the transcript: “The impact of policy misinformation.”

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