Reflecting on Inequality: Divergent (and Convergent) Perceptions of Inequality Along Ideological Lines

About this Session


Wed. 10.04. 15:05



Authors – Hannah Benner Waldfogel, Eldar Shafir

Abstract :

The political left – those motivated to attenuate inequality – perceive more inequality relative to the political right. Addressing rising social inequality requires political partisans to have a shared, accurate understanding of the extent of inequality in the world around them. Across four preregistered studies (total N = 1,161), the present work examines ideological differences in perceptions of social inequality given equivalent ‘objective’ exposure to evidence of inequality and tests whether particular features of the context bring partisan perceptions into greater alignment. In each study, participants view a series of images, some of which contain cues relevant to social inequality and are subsequently asked to estimate, out of the total number of images they saw, how many of those images were relevant to social inequality. In addition, we vary whether a particular study context facilitates more automatic or deliberative processing of inequality (i.e., whether participants reflect on or rate each image or whether they view all images before making their estimate). We find that in contexts where there is no explicit reflection, partisans diverge substantially in their perceptions of inequality with the political left estimating having seen more inequality than the political right. In contrast, in contexts which prompt deliberation (i.e., where participants rate how relevant each image is to social inequality after viewing it), partisan inequality perceptions do not differ significantly from one another. In sum, these results suggest that contexts facilitating elaboration and reflection (vs. those that do not) might bring partisan inequality perceptions into closer alignment with one another, pointing to potential strategies to bring partisans eye to eye.