Do lying politicians care if they are caught?

Politicians seem to lie with impunity. We have seen David Cunliffe and his carry on over his CV…and that is a just a small lie…Len Brown constantly lies about rates increases…Winston Peters lies to a Privileges Committee about his donations and to the media as well….Matthew Hooton about his National party connections

They just don’t just don’t seem to care…or do they?

New research seems to find that they do care if they think they will get caught.

A couple of political scientists, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter, recently set out to test this despairing view with a field experiment. Their findings suggest it’s not so hopeless after all: Politicians actually do seem to care whether they get caught lying, and they lie less when they know they’re being watched.

During last year’s election, Nyhan and Reifler picked nearly 1,200 state legislators in states with active affiliates of PolitiFact, the nonpartisan website based in Florida that seeks to evaluate politicians’ claims and rate their validity. To one-third of the lawmakers, chosen at random, Nyhan and Reifler sent a vaguely threatening letter. It alerted the lawmakers that PolitiFact was monitoring them and speculated about the potential consequences to their careers:  

Politicians who lie put their reputations and careers at risk, but only when those lies are exposed. That’s why we are especially interested in the consequences of PolitiFact verdicts and other fact-checking efforts in your state. Here are examples of the types of questions we are interested in:
• Are “false” or “pants on fire” verdicts damaging to the reputation or political support of political candidates?
• Do election campaigns use “false” or “pants of fire” verdicts in their advertising to attack their opponents?
• Will state legislators lose their seats as a result of fact-checkers revealing that they made a false statement?

Another one-third of the legislators got a “placebo” letter: It told them they were part of a political-science experiment “studying the accuracy of the political statements made by legislators,” but no more. (The purpose of this was to distinguish between the potential effect of getting any letter at all and the effect of the wording of the treatment letter.) The final one-third got no letter.

At the end of the election, the researchers looked at the politicians’ record. How many had been called out for lying, either by their state’s PolitiFact affiliate or in a news story? The results were impressive: The politicians who didn’t get reminder letters were more than twice as likely to be criticized for inaccuracy than those who did. “Our results indicate that state legislators who were sent letters about the threat posed by fact-checkers were less likely to have their claims questioned as misleading or inaccurate during the fall campaign—a promising sign for journalistic monitoring in democratic societies,” the researchers concluded.

Lying ratbag politicians seem to keep themselves in check if thy know that they will be held to account.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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