Facing Facts in an Era of Political Polarization: Young People’s Learning and Knowledge about Economic Inequality
by Benjamin Bowyer and Joseph Kahne, University of California, Riverside
Just before the 2016 election, the Pew Research Center (2016) released a study finding that “Basic facts, not just policies, are in dispute.” Of those surveyed, 81% said that not only did supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump disagree over desirable policies, they also did not agree when it came to basic facts. These perceptions appear to have an empirical basis. Surveys reveal that liberals and conservatives differ in their beliefs about the fundamental facts that relate to many of the most important issues in recent years including, for example, the Iraq War (Kull, Ramsay, and Lewis 2003) and climate change (McCright and Dunlap 2011). Of particular relevance for this study, beliefs about the trends in economic inequality are fundamentally shaped by political ideology. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to deny that income differences have increased (Bartels 2009). Moreover, Bartels (2009) found that ideology interacts with political knowledge such that more politically aware Americans (i.e., those individuals expected to be most informed about the issues) display the greatest ideological polarization in their beliefs about this basic economic trend.