Citizens' Perceptions of Ideological Bias in Research on Public Policy Controversies



How do ordinary citizens react to new policy-relevant findings that they learn about from media mentions or word of mouth? We conducted an experiment embedded in a random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone survey of 1,050 California adults. Respondents heard a description of a hypothetical study on one of four politicized topics or a politically neutral topic (nutrition) and were asked to describe their reactions to the study's main finding. As in prior research, citizens were more skeptical when the findings contradicted their prior beliefs about the topic. But, we also found effects of partisanship and ideology even after controlling for specific issue attitudes. Citizens, especially those holding conservative beliefs, tended to attribute studies with liberal findings to the liberalism of the researcher, but citizens were less likely to attribute conservative findings to the conservatism of the researcher.