Expressive Survey Responding: A Closer Look at the Evidence and Its Implications for American Democracy
By Ariel Malka and Mark Adelman, Yeshiva University
Concerns about public opinion-based threats to American democracy are often tied to evidence of partisan bias in factual perceptions. However, influential work on expressive survey responding suggests that many apparent instances of such bias result from respondents insincerely reporting politically congenial views in order to gain expressive psychological benefits. Importantly, these findings have been interpreted as “good news for democracy” because partisans who knowingly report incorrect beliefs in surveys can act on their correct beliefs in the real world. We synthesize evidence and commentary on this matter, drawing two conclusions: (1) evidence for insincere expressive responding on divisive political matters is limited and ambiguous and (2) when experimental manipulations in surveys reduce reports of politically congenial factual beliefs, this is often because such reported beliefs serve as flexible and interchangeable ways of justifying the largely stable allegiances that guide political behavior. The expressive value of acting on political commitments should be viewed as a central feature of the American political context rather than a methodological artifact of surveys. extinction crises.