Correcting Exaggerated Meta-Perceptions Reduces American Legislators’ Support for Undemocratic Practices

, ; , ; , ; , ; ,

There is substantial concern about democratic backsliding in the United States. Evidence includes notably high levels of support for undemocratic practices among the public. Much less is known, however, about the views of elected officials – even though they influence democratic outcomes more directly. In a survey experiment with state legislators, the researchers show that these officials exhibit much lower levels of support for undemocratic practices than the public. However, legislators vastly overestimate the undemocratic views of voters from the other party (though not the views of their own party’s voters). These inaccurate “meta-perceptions” are significantly reduced when legislators receive accurate information about the views of voters from the other party, suggesting that legislators’ own support for undemocratic practices are causally linked to their inaccurate meta-perceptions of other-party voters. The researchers’ findings highlight the importance of ensuring office holders have access to reliable information about voters from both parties.