How voters become misinformed: An investigation of the emergence and consequences of false factual beliefs*

Justin Reedy, Chris Wells, John Gastil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Objectives: Voters develop not only different opinions about politics but also different sets of empirical beliefs. It is less clear how falsifiable beliefs take hold. In particular, it remains unclear as to whether news and campaign messages, moderated by political knowledge, drive the process, or whether deep-seated values principally sway voters' acceptance of factual claims. These contrasting views point to a set of testable hypotheses that we use to refine a model of ideologically-biased empirical belief generation, which we call "knowledge distortion." Methods: We conduct an analysis of survey data on three ballot measures in Washington State, testing hypothesized relationships between voters' empirical beliefs about political issues, news and campaign messages, political knowledge, political values, and partisanship, as well as vote choices on the ballot measures. Results: Our analysis reveals that voters' values and partisanship had the strongest associations with distorted beliefs, which then influenced voting choices. Self-reported levels of exposure to media and campaign messages played a surprisingly limited role. Conclusion: Our findings provide further evidence of politically motivated factual misperceptions on political issues, which have an independent effect on voters' ballot decisions. These misperceptions do not seem to be driven by news media and campaign messages, suggesting that citizens may be generating relevant empirical beliefs based on their underlying political values and ideology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1399-1418
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)

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