"After we showed a nationally representative sample the taxpayer receipt, the previously strong relationship between how conservative or liberal someone was and their view on taxes virtually disappeared," explains Duhaime, noting that this depolarization effect did not occur if people were asked how they want their taxes to be spent when they viewed the receipt.
Apfelbaum says, "When we presented information in the plainest way possible -- just providing people with a numerical breakdown of where their taxes go -- there was a convergence of views on the legitimacy of taxes. Liberals' and conservatives' views became more similar to one another."
The study supports a growing body of evidence that increased political polarization is due in part to changes in the way people consume information. "People selectively tune into news outlets that confirm their preexisting views, which incentivizes the media to provide more biased information. And social media may create 'echo chambers' in which individuals are exposed to biased information from other likeminded people," says Duhaime.
Other research, he notes, shows that Facebook and Twitter users are more likely to be exposed to and click on stories that adhere to their own ideological views than ones that do not.
"To counter this phenomenon, we need to ensure that everyone has access to the same neutral facts and information, and give them the space to consider the information on their own. This is particularly relevant post-election, as social media continues to fuel a large political divide," he says.
As for the tax receipt, Duhaime notes that taxpayers in the U.K. receive such receipts in the mail as a matter of policy, whereas in the U.S. this information is only provided online for people who are motivated to seek it out. "Even if it makes a small difference, it's a relatively low-cost mechanism that could be explored in the U.S. to help reduce political polarization about one important issue at the heart of the political divide."
Duhaime and Apfelbaum coauthored the paper, "Can Information Decrease Political Polarization? Evidence from the U.S. Taxpayer Receipt," which was published this month in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The MIT Sloan School of Management is where smart, independent leaders come together to solve problems, create new organizations, and improve the world. Learn more at mitsloan.mit.edu.
To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/mit-sloan-study-finds-that-taxpayer-receipts-can-reduce-political-polarization-300391015.html
SOURCE MIT Sloan School of Management