Post-Truth Politics: The Effect of Reminders of Political Affiliation on Partisan Op-Ed Viewership

  •  Arron R. Liu    


Conventional economic theory depicts human-decision making as logical and rational. However, recent research has demonstrated that humans act as an irrational agent more often than not, and will habitually prioritize attitudes, emotions, values, and beliefs over a marginal analysis in their decision-making calculus. As such, individuals will regularly undertake actions in order to avoid conflicts with their beliefs. In particular, information contradicting an individual’s beliefs may be avoided to preserve an individual’s identity (information avoidance). This paper investigates the phenomena of belief-based utility and information avoidance in the political realm, an area in which the literature regarding the aforementioned theories are relatively sparse. Specifically, we explored whether a reminder of political affiliation could influence subjects to avoid reading op-eds possessing headlines indicative of a position commonly held by an opposing political party. The hypothesis was tested through a survey distributed on Amazon Mechanical Turk, where half the participants received a reminder while the other half did not. The results suggest a statistically significant relationship between reminders and media access behavior — a reminder can have a demonstrable effect on media access behavior by causing individuals to avoid op-eds that advocate for the viewpoints of a conflicting political party. This has multiple implications (increasing political polarization, expanding influence of private interest groups, etc.) regarding media viewership habits for the individual undertaking decisions that may deprive them of useful information.

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