The Invented State: Policy Misperceptions in the American Public (Paperback)

The Invented State: Policy Misperceptions in the American Public By Emily Thorson Cover Image
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In The Invented State, Emily Thorson argues that a problematic and understudied aspect of political misinformation reflects widespread public misperception about what the government does. Because much of public policy is invisible to the public, there is fertile ground for false beliefs to flourish, leading to the creation of what Thorson terms the "invented state" systematic misperceptions about public policy. However, people get the facts wrong not because they are lazy, stupid, or blinded by partisan loyalty. Rather, misperceptions are created when three conditions are met: when citizens have incomplete information about an issue, when their own biases color their understanding of it, and when they feel that the issue is important. In other words, the invented state is created not just by exposure to explicit misinformation, but also by individuals' cognitive errors.

Correcting these policy misperceptions is highly effective at reducing false beliefs. In addition, providing people with corrective information has downstream effects on attitudes. When they learn how policies - including Social Security, refugee policy, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program - really work, their approval of these policies increases, and they also shift their policy priorities. Contrary to pundits' assumptions of a public who is largely indifferent to policy, there is a deep public desire to learn basic facts about how the government works. Thorson meets that desire with analysis on how the news media can identify and effectively correct substantive policy misperceptions. The Invented State not only sheds a new light on how Americans think about policy, but can also help to inform evidence-based interventions to improve democratic competence.

About the Author

Emily Thorson is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University. Her research focuses on how people learn about the political world. She is particularly interested in understanding what people get wrong about politics and policy, and how correcting these misperceptions changes their attitudes and behavior. She received a dual Ph.D in communications and political science at the Annenberg School and at the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780197512333
ISBN-10: 019751233X
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2024
Pages: 184
Language: English