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Political Affiliation Moderates Subjective Interpretations of COVID-19 Graphs


Ja-Nae Duane, William S Albert, Jonathan D Ericson


We examined the relationship between political affiliation, perceptual estimates, and subjective judgements of disease prevalence and mortality across three chart types. An online survey exposed separate groups of participants to charts displaying COVID-19 data or COVID-19 data labeled ‘Influenza’. Block 1 examined responses to cross-sectional mortality data; results revealed that perceptual estimates comparing mortality in two countries were similar across political affiliations and chart types, while subjective judgements revealed a disease x political party interaction. Although Democrats and Republicans provided similar proportion estimates, Democrats interpreted mortality to be higher than Republicans; Democrats also interpreted mortality to be higher for COVID-19 than Influenza. Block 2 examined responses to time series; Democrats and Republicans estimated greater slopes for COVID-19 trend lines than Influenza lines; subjective judgements revealed a disease x political party interaction. Democrats and Republicans indicated similar subjective rates of change for COVID-19 trends, and Democrats indicated lower subjective rates of change for Influenza than in any other condition. Thus, while Democrats and Republicans saw the graphs similarly in terms of percentages and line slopes, their subjective interpretations diverged. While we may see graphs of infectious disease data similarly from a purely mathematical or geometric perspective, our political affiliations may moderate how we subjectively interpret the data.

Scholar Articles

Political affiliation moderates subjective interpretations of COVID-19 graphs

JN Duane, WS Albert, JD Ericson - 2022

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