Motivated Reasoning about Public Performance: An Experimental Study of How Citizens Judge the Affordable Care Act

Source: Oliver James and Gregg G. Van Ryzin, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Vol. 27 no. 1, January 2017
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From the abstract:
Public performance reporting is often promoted as a means to better inform citizens’ judgments of public services. However, political psychology has found evidence of motivated reasoning, with citizens’ accuracy motives often supplanted by biased searching for and evaluation of information to defend prior political attitudes, beliefs or identities. We conducted a survey experiment to evaluate motivated reasoning about the performance of the US Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), which has been politically contentious. In the experiment, we randomly assigned a sample of US adults to either a politics prime, to encourage partisan motivated reasoning, or a health care needs prime, to encourage accuracy motived reasoning stemming from their own perceived need for health care. We then asked them to rate the strength of real performance information in the form of evidence statements about the Affordable Care Act and to choose real performance indicators from a graphical array. The findings show that the political prime strengthened partisan differences in both the ratings of evidence statements and the selection of performance indicators. Thus, for contentious public programs where partisan identities are activated, partisan motivated reasoning influences how citizens process performance information and thus may limit its potential for enhancing democratic accountability.