Degrees of Rationality: How Reflection Minimizes Partisan Reasoning and Promotes Democratic Accountability
Kevin Arceneaux (Temple University)
Abstract: The purpose of this project is to incorporate insights from the behavioral revolution in economics and psychology into the study of political decision making. In doing so, we speak directly to a long-running debate between scholars that use economic approaches to study political behavior and those who use social psychological approaches. At the fault line of this debate is a dispute about whether it is appropriate to assume that ordinary citizens behave “rationally” when making important political decisions. One of the key insights from the behavioral model of the mind is that people vary in their capacity to be reflective and, as a result, their capacity to behave rationally when their gut reactions lead them astray. We incorporate these insights into an updated model of political reasoning and apply it to the study of democratic accountability. In doing so, we provide a theoretical model that explains why some people behave like knee-jerk partisan cheerleaders and why others do not. We offer a way to measure individual differences in the predisposition to be reflective and show how difference in reflection influences the way in which people form political attitudes, evaluate politicians, vote, as well as how partisan polarization in the United States creates knee-jerk partisans.