The Liar’s Dividend: Can Politicians Claim Misinformation to Evade Accountability?
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Description: This study addresses the phenomenon of misinformation about misinformation, or politicians "crying wolf" over fake news. Strategic and false claims that stories are fake news or deepfakes may benefit politicians by helping them maintain support after a scandal. We posit that this benefit, known as the "liar's dividend," may be achieved through two politician strategies: by invoking informational uncertainty or by encouraging oppositional rallying of core supporters. We administer five survey experiments to over 15,000 American adults detailing hypothetical politician responses to stories describing real politician scandals. We find that claims of misinformation representing both strategies raise politician support across partisan subgroups. These strategies are effective against text-based reports of scandals, but are largely ineffective against video evidence and do not reduce general trust in media. Finally, these false claims produce greater dividends for politicians than alternative responses to scandal, such as remaining silent or apologizing.