The Polarization of Reality

Authors: Alberto Alesina, Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva

Publication: American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings [also NBER Working Paper 26675], 2020

Abstract: Americans are polarized not only in their views on policy issues and attitudes towards government and society, but also in their perceptions of the same, factual reality. In this paper we conceptualize how to think about the “polarization of reality’’ and review recent papers that show that Republicans and Democrats (as well as Trump and non-Trump voters since 2016) view the same reality through a very different lens. Perhaps as a result, they hold different views about policies and what should be done to address different economic and social issues. We also show that providing information leads to different reassessments of reality and different responses along the policy support margin, depending on one’s political leanings. This is not about having different attitudes about economic or social phenomena or policies that could justifiably be viewed differently from different angles. What is striking is to have different perceptions of realities that can be factually checked.