The Secret to Truth in Polling? Money.

Neil Irwin comments on two new studies about partisan bias in The Quarterly Journal of Political Science, one from four scholars led by John G. Bullock at the University of Texas at Austin, the other by Markus Prior of Princeton and two colleagues.

The results show that “the partisan bias in how people answer factual questions about the economy is diminished by this one weird trick: Pay people.”

“When survey respondents were offered a small cash reward — a dollar or two — for producing a correct answer about the unemployment rate and other economic conditions, they were more likely to be accurate and less likely to produce an answer that fit their partisan biases.”

“The paper by Mr. Bullock, Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill and Gregory A. Huber found that offering a $1 payment for a correct response and a 33-cent payment for an answer of “Don’t know” eliminated the entire partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans on questions about the economy.”

“The good news is this: No matter how politically polarized society might seem, there is an objective reality we can agree upon on how the economy is performing and on other measures of national well-being. It just takes a little skin in the game to get people to acknowledge those facts when they are at odds with their political instincts.”

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