Understanding and Reducing Biases in Elite Beliefs About the Electorate

Understanding and Reducing Biases in Elite Beliefs About the Electorate

By Miguel M. Pereira, University of Southern California

To be responsive, politicians have to rely on beliefs about public will. Previous research suggests that perceptions of public opinion are often distorted. However, it remains unclear (1) why reelection-seeking officials misperceive public preferences and (2) how to mitigate these distorted beliefs. I argue that misperceptions result from unequal exposure to different subconstituencies and a tendency of legislators to project their own preferences on voters. I find support for these arguments in a six-wave panel of Swedish MPs combined with mass surveys. Elite beliefs disproportionately reflect the preferences of privileged voters and the personal positions of legislators. Additionally, an experiment with Swiss representatives leveraging real political events reveals how misperceptions can be reduced by encouraging a more balanced exposure to voters. The study concludes that economic and political inequalities are rooted in elite beliefs about the electorate and reveals ways to bolster the links between voters and their representatives.

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