Five studies show that people don't know how public opinion has shifted over time
One thing that seems relevant is that a certain segment of the population believes that history has a 'preferred direction' or purpose ... there is a natural law of history, that means that we are all progressing, as we are supposed to, to the utopian future. If this teleological lens is how you see history then people in the past by definition must have less enlightened attitudes that we do in the present. The reverse of this, popular other places, is that rather than 'progressing' we have embarked on a path of terminal decline. People who believe this believe that those in the past must have had more enlightened attitudes than we do now. Sometimes the people on both sides believe exactly the same things about attitudes in the past -- they only disagree over what constitutes progress vs decline.
The teleological view is rather dangerous, from a governing point of view. It means that people are not free to propose a way to deal with a problem, try it, discover that it didn't work as imagined, conclude it was a bad idea and decide to not do this any more. Once you get started with a project, there is relentless pressure to double down on the measure when it first shows signs of not working out after all. Progress appears to not have a reverse gear. But can explicitly 'progress-neutral' or 'progress-irrelevant' measures grow sufficient popular backing?
This critique is based purely on my squinting at the graphs not on any number crunching, but I was a less impressed by the under/over estimate charts than the strength of the conclusions here seem to imply. Many of them I look at and think that people got it basically right, or that the delta was pretty close but the absolute was off.
I’m saying that the standard for being right/unbiased is too exacting, and therefore saying “98% (!) of the questions” is a bit misleading. I would be very surprised if they all matched as closely as the ones that did match, and suspect those matches are more chance.
This makes me think the stronger claims of bias are exaggerated -- maybe we don’t need this much of an explanation! But the parts where we dig in to the ones we’re people are very very wrong are quite interesting.
Sounds like it's probable that people's biases largely come from works of fiction.
Nice research and neat article but I think the elephant in the room is that people's feelings change as reality changes. People are more against gun control because we live in a more violent world with less dependable police support. We want guns to protect ourselves because the government is less reliable to do so.
But your chart on how people view the position of society as a whole is mostly about what media and educational institutions are telling them, which by your demonstration is largely wrong. You demonstrate sources of bias by talking about civics classes and news reports which shows you agree with me.
The more I read about psychology the more it seems we humans are wrong a lot more than we like to think. Or am I wrong about that too?! 😱
I think a lot of this is just social desirability bias. Take the “Would vote for black president” chart. ~80% of people said they would in 1978, but they harbored racist attitudes that made them perceive candidates of color more negatively. It took another 30 years for a black American to be nominated by a major political party. The polling for a lot of these questions didn’t capture real attitudes.
Am I misreading the chart that says “Extramarital sex is not wrong”? I read it as saying 95% think it *is* wrong, and if anything this is getting higher.
That is surprising enough to me that I thought I would ask if I am making a mistake, or if there is a mistake on the chart (or, I guess, if the one thing America completely and totally agrees on is the importance of sex in wedlock)
Basing the study on topics sourced from MTurk really threw me, given the focus of the research. MTurk has a substantial population of bad actors and a very, very limited demographic. At the very least, I think it's critical to make it crystal clear that any results are limited to that demographic. For more on issues with MTurk, see https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods/article/abs/microtask-market-for-lemons-data-quality-on-amazons-mechanical-turk/B379D8827575D81857C872BB5C40B660, which is unfortunately pay walled, or https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13428-019-01273-7 which is not, although perhaps a bit biased itself.
When a topic becomes hotly debated it leads to polarization and the resulting shift is hard for other people to predict. For example Trump's election on an immigration reduction platform made democrat voters shift in favor of immigration which is not something intuitive. That sort of makes sense if you account for spite, but the event that led to the radicalization of white liberals on race was the election of barack Obama. That's the opposite of what I expected.
Plus, people are bad at both history and numerical assessments. There's plenty of studies that show public opinion is widely wrong on the % of blacks or gays in the general population.
Thank you your online survey tips. I know it is a lot to ask but maybe, can you write a guide on how to conduct research, like to ensure quality when doing survey online, or how to ensure replication? Just from your personal experiences?
I wonder if some of the biases on "build the wall" presuming to mean being against immigration is b/c the media and many politicians conflate border/ national security with The Immigration System.
What was the reason behind using actual shifts in exps 3a & 3b, but opposite of estimated shift in 3c?
How is Amazon Mechanical Turk a representative sample? Do all Americans work for AMT?
Thanks for this. Can I offer one build on the tendency to imagine linear progression from good to bad, conservative to liberal? A lot of the misperception you measure may be a result of our belief that recent social change is about a general, one variable shift. In reality, liberal society allows you to be as conservative or modern as you want about any of dozens of lifestyle variables. The scope of lifestyle variation is so large now, but you absolutely can act like it’s 1895, if you can find a little group of folks (polygamist Mormons) who agree with you. This increased scope would absolutely fragment us in ways that make our estimations of national patterns meaningless.
As someone who loves watching American society from the outside, it seems obvious that your attitudes are becoming progressively more conservative and parochial. Hollywood is an example of a cultural 'institution' that seems to have shifted towards conservatism and prudishness. Interesting that your citizens don't see that.
Also (What The?!) the fact that Americans are still using the word "believe" with climate change, as if it is some faith-based phenomenon?! That's so last decade!