Lie Defectors: The New Truth about Partisans and Facts

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”  Of late many of us are wondering whether the Moynihan maxim is still in effect. The bipartisan fact seems to be going the way of the Red-and-blue Lory.

But now a bit of breaking news from Dylan Matthews who reports on new research suggesting there is more agreement on facts than previous studies have indicated.  If fealty to facts pays, literally, then many partisans fess up:

… Republicans were likelier than Democrats to correctly state that U.S. casualties in Iraq fell from 2007 to 2008, and Democrats were likelier than Republicans to correctly state that unemployment and inflation rose under Bush’s presidency.

But when there was money on the line, the size of the gaps shrank by 55 percent. The researchers ran another experiment, in which they increased the odds of winning for those who answered the questions correctly but also offered a smaller reward to those who answered “don’t know” rather than answering falsely. The partisan gaps narrowed by 80 percent.

So are partisans just lying?  Matthews leans that way but whatever the case it’s encouraging to those who have feared a kind of fracturing of the fact-world.  Or worse, to wit, in the post Matthews also relates a prior study in which:

Republicans presented with news articles pointing out that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that such weapons were found than Republicans who didn’t read those articles. The truth, in other words, triggered a partisan backlash.

But we can indulge a collective sigh of relief if it’s just good ol’ honest lying. So back to the new research:

The authors conclude that false answers — like Democrats saying that casualties in Iraq increased from 2007 to 2008 — are just cheap talk, a way to signal a party affiliation rather than a sincere belief.

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