Motivated reasoning and public opinion perception

Lilach Nir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Theorists posit that a public - unlike a mass of individuals - forms opinions through awareness of multiple viewpoints and recognition of opposition in a polity. Whether individuals pursue information on others' political preferences is another matter. While some are motivated to seek as much information as possible, others seek information that supports their own preference. This differential pattern of awareness has implications for individuals' assessment of collective preferences. This article extends recent research on motivated reasoning to test whether accuracy goals (i.e., reaching correct conclusions) and directional goals (i.e., reaching preferred conclusions) affect perceptions of majority preferences. Results show that motivated reasoning affects overestimates of support, of both national-level opinion and modal opinion in discussion groups, even after controlling for partisan strength, demographics, news exposure, political knowledge, and interest. Implications for considered public opinion are discussed in the conclusion.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)504-532
Number of pages29
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
LILACH NIR is an Associate Professor in the departments of political science and communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. The author is indebted to Vincent Price and Joseph N. Cappella for their permission to use the proprietary Electronic Dialogue 2000 data, a project funded by grants to Price and Cappella from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Views expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the proprietors or the sponsoring agencies. I thank Joseph Cappella, Elihu Katz, Orit Kedar, Kate Kenski, Ifat Maoz, Dan Miodownik, Vincent Price, Tamir Sheafer, Talia Jomini Stroud, David Tewksbury, and Yariv Tsfati, who have read and offered constructive comments on former versions of this article. All remaining errors in the article are mine. *Address correspondence to Lilach Nir, Department of Political Science, Mount Scopus, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 91905 Jerusalem, Israel; e-mail:


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