Research explores how biased perceptions may drive erosion of democratic values in US

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A new report published in the magazine Scientific Reports sheds light on the current state of democracy in the United States.

The research by a social psychologist and colleagues at the University of Illinois Chicago shows that both Democrats and Republicans personally value basic democratic principles, such as free and fair elections, but seriously underestimate opponents’ support for those same traits.

Results of this biased underestimation, the researchers say, are related to the willingness of individuals, especially Republicans, to subvert democratic principles themselves.

Michael Pasek, UIC assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the paper, points out that to have strong democratic standards, it is not enough for people to value democratic principles themselves. They must also believe that others – and especially members of the opposing side – value democratic principles in the same way.

“To the extent that people come to believe that their opponents don’t care about democracy, the prospect of political loss becomes untenable and anti-democratic behavior can be seen as justified, even necessary,” Pasek said. “We think there may be a, perhaps preventable, downward spiral of democratic practice rooted in psychological bias.”

In two surveys of nationally representative panels of Americans, the researchers asked Democrats and Republicans to rate the importance of basic democratic characteristics, such as free and fair elections. Survey results show that both Democrats and Republicans place a high value on basic democratic principles, with the average rating for each group hovering around 90 on a scale of 0 (not important at all) to 100 (extremely important).

The researchers then asked members of each party to estimate how much the average member of their own party — and their counterparty — would value the same characteristics. When asked to make these predictions, Democrats estimated that the average Democrat 56% (in Study 1) and 77% (in Study 2) value Democratic attributes more than the average Republican. Similarly, Republicans estimate that the average Republican value 82% (in Study 1) and 88% (in Study 2) more about Democratic characteristics than the average Democrat.

Given the high level of actual support from Democrats and Republicans for Democratic principles, the researchers argue that these wildly inaccurate misconceptions are likely the result of social-psychological biases rooted in political partisanship increasingly turning into a “we” versus “them.” dynamics that have previously been shown to encourage mutual disgust and dehumanization. The polarized media landscape and highly visible anti-democratic behavior of some partisan elites are also cited as likely key influencers in shaping citizens’ misconceptions.

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While further research is needed on the effectiveness of informational interventions to correct inaccurate intergroup perceptions, the researchers note that maintaining democratic norms in the current political climate requires a greater focus on hyper-partisan psychology.

“Maintaining strong democratic standards ensures that parties have a fair chance to compete for power and that the rights of minorities are protected,” Pasek said. “As we learn more about anti-democratic behavior by elected officials and approach a consistent by-election where the principles of democracy appear to be on the ballot, such studies can help inform the general public and hopefully reduce democratic erosion in the United States. ”

Participation runs deep in America – even among ‘independents’

More information:
Michael H. Pasek et al, Misconceptions about outsiders’ democratic values ​​can erode democracy, Scientific Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-19616-4

Provided by the University of Illinois at Chicago

Quote: Study examines how biased perceptions can cause the erosion of democratic values ​​in the US (2022, September 29) retrieved September 29, 2022 from democratic.html

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