Lying in Politics: Evidence from the US
In this paper, we quantify the extent and identify some major determinants of lying in politics. We focus on public claims made by US national politicians between 2007 and 2012 and present a series of intriguing results. While politicians – and prominent ones in particular – are reluctant to tell complete (or ‘black’) lies, they have a strong propensity to (strategically) tell ‘grey’ lies, i.e. claims that are only partly true. Moreover, party affiliation has a huge influence, with Republicans being more likely to depart from the truth than Democrats. Also one’s state of origin plays an important role: whereas politicians in general are significantly less likely to lie if they come from swing (or battleground) states, Democratic politicians lie more frequently if they come from traditionally Blue states. Politicians are also less likely to be untruthful if they come from highly educated states and from Southern states, where traditional values prevail. As to political topics, both black and grey lies occur more often on health-related issues. As to presidential candidates, Obama lies significantly less than his opponents. Our results on the extent and sources of variation of lying in politics inform the theory of strategic information transmission as well as the streams of literature on persuasive communication, democratization, human lying in general and deceptive behavior in politics.
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