Our survey experiment will be posted on Prolific and distributed to their nationally-representative panel of respondents. Individuals who opt to take our survey will answer a series of questions about their beliefs relating to several different political issues. The issues will include police shootings of minorities, climate change, affirmative action, income taxation of the top 1%, economic mobility, transgender participation in sports, crime in Republican- and Democratic-run cities, gun control, and the Olympics.
Once an individual opts to take the survey, they will begin by answering a series of demographic questions. After this, for each of five of the above nine issue areas (randomly selected), the respondent will be randomly sorted into either (i) the control group, (ii) the information treatment group, or (iii) the hypothetical treatment group. Independently, they will be sorted into an "A" or "B" group, which receive slightly different orders of normative beliefs questions. In other words, an individual may be sorted into the control group ver. A for the climate change issue, the hypothetical group ver. B for the affirmative action issue, and the treatment group ver. A for the income taxation issue.
Regardless of which group the individual is sorted into, they will be asked for their belief on an empirical fact relating to a political issue. After this,
In the control group, respondents will be asked for their normative beliefs on the issue (both the A and B questions).
In the information treatment group, respondents will be presented with the true answer to the above empirical question corresponding to the issue. Then, they will be asked for their normative beliefs on the issue (both the A and B questions).
In the hypothetical group, respondents will be presented, randomly, with three hypotheticals asking what their normative beliefs would be IF the true answer to the empirical question was X, for three randomly-selected values of X (one of which is the true value). They will be asked the A version of the normative beliefs question if they were sorted into group A and the B version if they were sorted into group B.
This process is then repeated four more times for four more issues.
Comparing the extent to which individuals claim they will hypothetically update their beliefs (for the true value of X) to the extent to which they actually do update their beliefs when presented with the true information will yield information on the extent to which motivated reasoning is occurring. In addition, we will test how much people claim they will respond to new information.
Concretely, we will examine
(a) People's ex ante beliefs about political issues (using answers of people in the control group)
(b) People's claimed responsiveness to information (using answers of people in the hypothetical group)
(c) People's ex post beliefs about political issues (using answers of people in the treatment group)
(d) People’s ex post beliefs about political issues when potentially constrained by previously-stated hypothetical beliefs (using answers of people in the hypothetical group when they are subsequently given the treatment information)
At the end of the survey, for each issue on which individuals were sorted into a hypothetical group, they will receive a follow-up. They will be given the information treatment and then asked their normative beliefs on the issue (both A and B). Comparing the extent to which they then update their beliefs on A and on B will yield information on the efficacy of using the hypotheticals approach as a tool for de-biasing.
In particular, we will test:
(a) Whether the apparent degree of motivated reasoning is reduced by this process of first posing hypothetical questions
(b) Whether the apparent degree of motivated reasoning differs between the specific normative question on which the respondent previously answered the hypothetical (e.g., A) versus the normative question which they were not posed hypotheticals about (e.g., B). To the extent that de-biasing is more successful for A vis-a-vis B (in this example) this suggests a demand effect rather than a true de-biasing. To the extent that this attempted de-biasing is at least partially unsuccessful, this is indicative of the strength of motivated reasoning on political views; not only are people able to discount unfavorable information, they would have done so even in the face of information they had recently claimed would change their mind.
In a follow-up survey one week later, we will again ask people these normative beliefs questions (both the A and B versions) in order to examine the extent to which these effects persist. The mechanical demand effects whereby people in the hypothetical group feel constrained to be consistent with their hypothetical answers (e.g., for A but not constrained for B) should be substantially alleviated one week later, and this will allow us to determine whether the information treatment is persistent and any de-biasing is, in fact, real.