How political Leaders Shape Public Opinion

Friday, Jan 5, 2018

A recent article published in The Economist examines the effect of President Donald Trump's tweets on domestic policy. " As partisanship grows, committed members of political parties seem increasingly inclined to change their attitudes to match those of their parties’ leaders." The growing partisan gap in views on undocumented immigrants, on Russia, on the media, even on traditionally apolitical topics as confidence in the economy, suggests the influence of Mr. Trump's positions. But, do these opinions reflect underlying beliefs or mostly the need to show partisan loyalty?  Research for the National Bureau of Economic by Atif Mian, Amir Sufi and Nasim Khoshkhou suggests that partisan-driven change in reported sentiment is not reflected in survey answers to questions about whether now is a good time to buy a car or household items, for example. The paper also finds no evidence of a larger rise in actual car purchases after the election in counties that voted more heavily for Mr Trump.

The Economist concludes that "... the effect of heightened partisanship on public opinion is worrying. As Republicans model their opinions on a leader who is not afraid to spread falsehoods, the result may be an increasingly mis-informed electorate. At the end of 2016, 62% of Trump supporters believed that millions of illegal votes were cast in the presidential election, for example, though there is no evidence to support this. Knowing the power of the bully pulpit, political leaders should aim to use it responsibly."