On the Misplaced Politics of Behavioral Policy Interventions

  • Tannenbaum D
  • Fox C
  • Rogers T
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Abstract

One common criticism of policy tools derived from behavioral science that can be applied to a range of policy objectives (commonly referred to as nudges) is that such interventions are manipulative and coercive. We show that such criticism sometimes reflects a partisan nudge bias, whereby partisans conflate their attitudes toward policy tools with their attitudes toward policy objectives. Across five experiments we find that partisans evaluate policy nudges as relatively unethical when applied to policy objectives they oppose or by policymakers they distrust, but evaluate the same policy tools more favorably when applied to political objectives they support or by policymakers they trust. Both politically liberal and conservative partisans exhibited partisan nudge bias, as did practicing policymakers. However, these partisan differences disappear when behavioral policy interventions are described without a specific policy application or sponsor. Thus, explicitly setting aside particular policy objectives and endorsements may facilitate less prejudiced discussion about the appropriateness of deploying behavioral policy tools.

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Authors

  • David Tannenbaum

  • Craig R. Fox

  • Todd Rogers

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