Can Information Decrease Political Polarization?

Evidence From the U.S. Taxpayer Receipt

Scholars, politicians, and laypeople alike bemoan the high level of political polarization in the United States, but little is known about how to bring the views of liberals and conservatives closer together. Previous research finds that providing people with information regarding a contentious issue is ineffective for reducing polarization because people process such information in a biased manner. Here, we show that information can reduce political polarization below baseline levels and also that its capacity to do so is sensitive to contextual factors that make one’s relevant preferences salient. Specifically, in a nationally representative sample (Study 1) and a preregistered replication (Study 2), we find that providing a taxpayer receipt—an impartial, objective breakdown of how one’s taxes are spent that is published annually by the White House—reduces polarization regarding taxes, but not when participants are also asked to indicate how they would prefer their taxes be spent.

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