Size matters: The effects of political orientation, majority status, and majority size on misperceptions of public opinion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

According to cognitive research, members of a social majority are better than minority members at estimating the consensus, since the latter tend to overestimate the popularity of their opinion. These differences have been explained using the motivational reasoning model. The purpose of the current study is twofold: to verify that majority members indeed provide more accurate public consensus estimations and to test the effect of political orientation on this relation. Following the motivational reasoning model, it is suggested that proponents of right-wing ideology will overestimate support for their group, especially when in the minority, since they have a stronger reaction to political threat. The research involved three case studies. In the first, data from 33 surveys conducted over 10 years (N = 15,129) were analyzed using multilevel analysis. The results showed that (a) majority members are more accurate in gauging consensual opinions than minority members; (b) the gap in accuracy between majority and minority members increases with the size of the majority; and (c) those holding right-wing attitudes tend to overestimate their group size, more so when in the minority or when support for their opinion declines. The second case study analyzed data on four different issues, using a within-subject approach (N = 450). The findings were similar, with the exception of a nonsignificant effect for majority size. Finally, in the third case study, the causal mechanism suggested was supported by an experimental setting (N = 388). The results are discussed in light of the motivational reasoning model regarding information processing and ideology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Volume79
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015

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