The wisdom of partisan crowds

Citation:

Becker, J., Porter, E. & Centola, D. (2019). “The wisdom of partisan crowds”. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116 (22), 10717-10722. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved July 24, 2019 from https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1817195116

Work data:

ISSN: 091-6490

Alternate URL:
pdf file https://ndg.asc.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/BPC-Wisdom-of-Partisan-Crowds-Preprint.pdf

Type of work: Article (academic)

Categories:

e-Democracy

Abstract:

Theories in favor of deliberative democracy are based on the premise that social information processing can improve group beliefs. While research on the “wisdom of crowds” has found that information exchange can increase belief accuracy on noncontroversial factual matters, theories of political polarization imply that groups will become more extreme—and less accurate—when beliefs are motivated by partisan political bias. A primary concern is that partisan biases are associated not only with more extreme beliefs, but also with a diminished response to social information. While bipartisan networks containing both Democrats and Republicans are expected to promote accurate belief formation, politically homogeneous networks are expected to amplify partisan bias and reduce belief accuracy. To test whether the wisdom of crowds is robust to partisan bias, we conducted two web-based experiments in which individuals answered factual questions known to elicit partisan bias before and after observing the estimates of peers in a politically homogeneous social network. In contrast to polarization theories, we found that social information exchange in homogeneous networks not only increased accuracy but also reduced polarization. Our results help generalize collective intelligence research to political domains.

Observations:

Significance:

Normative theories of deliberative democracy are based on the premise that social information processing can improve group beliefs. Research on the “wisdom of crowds” has found that information exchange can increase belief accuracy in many cases, but theories of political polarization imply that groups will become more extreme—and less accurate—when beliefs are motivated by partisan political bias. While this risk is not expected to emerge in politically heterogeneous networks, homogeneous social networks are expected to amplify partisan bias when people communicate only with members of their own political party. However, we find that the wisdom of crowds is robust to partisan bias. Social influence not only increases accuracy but also decreases polarization without between-group network ties.