Study: People who overclaim political knowledge more likely to vote anti-establishment

AMSTERDAM — There has been a rise in populist, anti-establishment election and ballot victories in recent years. From Brexit to President’s Trump 2016 election win, campaigns centered around fighting the established “elite,” have clearly touched a nerve with many voters. In light of this, a new study out of the Netherlands finds that voters who overestimate their political knowledge are more likely to vote anti-establishment, particularly on the far-right end of the spectrum.

Researchers from the Vrije University in Amsterdam say that anti-establishment voters are typically more boisterous and confident in their views than others, even when they may not have a full understanding of all the relevant issues.

“Politicians and citizens with strong anti-establishment views, including populist movements, often articulate their views with high confidence,” explains study author Jan-Willem van Prooijen in a statement. “This research puts that confidence into perspective and suggests that it may often be overconfidence.”

According to the study, it is cognitively “easy” to blame society’s problems on the establishment, or “powers that be.” Researchers say this propensity to blame those already in power happens among both liberals and conservatives, but appears to be a stronger tendency among the far-right more than any other political group.

The study’s authors analyzed voter knowledge and behavior regarding an April 2016 Dutch vote on whether to support or oppose an EU treaty. The treaty focused on establishing closer ties between the EU and Ukraine.

Surveys were sent out to over 13,000 Dutch voters six weeks before the referendum. The surveys asked recipients to answer factual questions on the upcoming referendum, rate their overall knowledge on the subject, and explain their political views. After the treaty vote, a second round of surveys were sent out, this time asking if the recipient voted in the referendum and how they voted. All answers were kept anonymous.

After comparing the responses with voter behavior and self-declared political opinions, researchers found that for each measurement point of self-perceived knowledge, a voter became 1.62 times more likely to vote anti-establishment. Conversely, an increase in factual knowledge decreased an individual’s likelihood of voting anti-establishment by 0.85 per measurement point.

“The study does not show that anti-establishment voters are somehow less intelligent, or less concerned with society,” says van Prooijen. “Future research may reveal whether the discrepancy between self-perceived understanding and actual knowledge is due to being uninformed or due to being misinformed.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.