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Skeptic Research Center

Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

In the Political Accuracy and Divisions Study (PADS), we conducted an extensive survey of over 3,000 American adults to assess their accuracy about a variety of controversial topics including, abortion, immigration, gender, race, crime, and the economy. So much of our political discourse revolves around these topics—but how much do we really know about these issues and the views of our fellow Americans? How informed are the loudest, most politically confident voices? We will examine the prevalence of misconceptions across the political continuum, and in doing so, we hope to offer a means by which to improve the quality of our national discourse.

For additional information, please feel free to contact the Skeptic Research Center by email: [email protected].


Additional data briefs that were shared on Twitter (X)

  1. Do Hispanic Americans Identify with “Latinx”?
  2. Are Voter ID Laws Racist?


Younger Generations are Least Accurate About Police Shootings and Least Trusting of Police

Eleventh report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

Amidst the George Floyd anti-police riots, the Skeptic Research Center showed that Americans’ anti-police attitudes were influenced to a significant degree by their ignorance about the number of unarmed Black men shot by police (McCaffree & Saide, 2021; Saide, McCaffree & McCready, 2021). Probably due in part to mainstream media’s constant portrayals of police as bloodthirsty racist killers (e.g., Balko, 2022; Thompson, 2021), we found that Americans identifying as “very liberal” were extremely misinformed, with nearly 54% believing 1,000 or more unarmed black men were shot by police in 2019, and with over 22% of “very liberals” believing the number was 10,000 or more (the actual number is around 10). Given Americans’ continued fledgling trust in police–64% of Americans reported high levels of trust in police in 2004 compared to 43% in 2023 (Gallup Polling, 2023)—in this report we ask: how does Americans’ accuracy about policing vary by generation, and how does being inaccurate about policing relate to trust of police?

Download Report (PADS-011)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2024). Younger Generations are Least Accurate About Police Shootings and Least Trusting of Police. Skeptic Research Center, PADS-011.


Are Americans Losing Their Trust?

Tenth report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

Public opinion polling has revealed unprecedented drops in Americans’ institutional trust for several years now, and institutional trust reached a new low in 2023 (Jones, 2022; Saad, 2023). Americans’ trust in government, for example, is hovering at its lowest point since Pew polling began measuring it in 1958 (Pew Research Center, 2023). In 1973, 58% of Americans had “a great deal”/“quite a lot” of confidence in public schools—by 2023, this had fallen to 26%. Also in 1973, 42% of Americans had “a great deal”/“quite a lot” of confidence in Congress—by 2023, this had fallen to 8%. In 1975, 80% of people had “a great deal”/ “quite a lot” of confidence in the medical system, but by 2023, this number had fallen to 33% (the decline began long before COVID). And also across many other American institutions (see Gallup Polling, 2023). Some polling also suggests Americans have been losing trust in each other (not just in abstract institutional “systems”). For example, Pew polling found that 64% of Americans felt that trust in one another has “been shrinking,” (Rainie et al., 2019). In light of these concerning trends, we looked back through two of our own polls (one conducted in 2021, the other in 2022) and asked: how have Americans’ trust in institutions and each other changed?

Download Report (PADS-010)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2024). Americans Are Losing Their Trust. Skeptic Research Center, PADS-010.


Being “Liberal” in America

Ninth report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

Analysts have recognized for decades now that the world is becoming more liberal. It seems that the more removed people are from basic survival concerns, the more liberal their worldviews become, in the sense of being more accepting of cultural differences and more protective of civil rights. Some analysts have noted how paradoxically intolerant and dogmatic this trend has become in Western societies (i.e., the societies most removed from basic survival concerns): amongst many Western progressives, for example, all group disadvantages are assumed to always be a result of oppression, with oppression always being driven by white people (and usually men). Thus, it would seem that at the extremes, liberalism and the human tendency towards tribalism interact to produce both a demand for equality and justice as well as an insistence that one demographic group (white/European people) is accountable for most or all of the oppression and corruption in the world. In light of the controversies and nuances inherent in identifying as a modern liberal, in this report we ask: how do rates of identifying as “liberal” vary in the United States according to peoples’ generation, sex and race?

Download Report (PADS-009)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2024). Being “Liberal” in America. Skeptic Research Center. Political Accuracy and Divisions Study, PADS-009.


The Essence of Americans

Eighth report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

Part of human reasoning involves reducing people, animals, and things to their core essence, a tendency beginning in childhood (Ahn et al., 2001; Gelman, 2003). We define dogs and cats by different essences, for example, and we do the same for people when we define them by their sex, race, age, and the like. Though helpful as a crude way of categorizing things in the world, essentialism makes us prone to error. Believing, for example, that water is defined by the essential element of “wetness” will fail to recognize ice as water; or, believing that those with recent European ancestry are defined by the essential element of “whiteness” will fail to recognize variations in cultural background or individual experience (Roth et al., 2023). While essentialism feels useful in its simplifying of an otherwise complex reality, it can lead to negative stereotyping. Given that essentialist reasoning typically produces rigid categorizations of people, and that rigid categorizations of people might be conducive to political misinformation, conspiracism, or extremism (e.g., Buhagiar et al., 2018; Kurzwelly et al., 2020), in this report we ask: how common is the tendency to essentialize amongst the American public?

Download Report (PADS-008)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2023). How Commonly Do Americans Essentialize Each Other?. Skeptic Research Center, PADS-008.


How Accurate Are Americans About Economic Mobility?

Seventh report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

According to economists at Stanford University, economic mobility is a “fading American dream.” Richard Delgado, a founder of critical race theory, calls upward mobility a “myth” and suggests that, “the myth of upward mobility enables the wealthy to justify favorable treatment for themselves and cutbacks for the rest,” while reminding us that, “study after study shows that class membership in our society is relatively fixed.” In agreement, the Huffington Post regards economic class in America as “suffocating,” Mother Jones insists that America is a “thriving aristocracy” maintained by “powerful-yet-obscure entities,” and the New York Times informs us that class in America is a “caste system,” and that “the hierarchy of caste is… about power — which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources — which groups are seen as worthy of them, and which are not.” These claims are not new. As far back as 1897, Carrol D. Wright, the first commissioner of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, noted that, “the assertion that the rich are growing richer and the poor poorer has…taken more complete possession of the popular mind than any other.” Yet, Wright went on to say that this assertion “is a false one, false in its premises and misleading in its influence.” Is poverty ubiquitous in America? Do people have any chance of improving their economic circumstances? To assess these claims and what Americans think about them, in this report we ask: how accurate are Americans about economic mobility?

Download Report (PADS-007)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2023). How Accurate Are Americans About Economic Mobility?. Skeptic Research Center, PADS-007.


Depression and Political Ideology

Sixth report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

Is life in America hopeless? In a peer-reviewed article entitled “Fuck the patriarchy: Towards an intersectional politics of irreverent rage,” sociologist Helen Wood suggests that, “with climate change [and] widening inequality… we are truly fucked” (Wood, 2019). In 2020, Chad Wolf, acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, declared white supremacy to be the most persistent and lethal domestic threat to the United States (Behrmann, 2020). A recent New York Times feature article described one professor’s struggle to remove “whiteness” from universities given that the study of classic literature, “has been instrumental to the invention of ‘whiteness’ and its continued domination” (Poser, 2021). Some popular academic theories even doubt the possibility of moral progress (Seamster & Ray, 2018). But in 2021, a Manhattan Institute report found, among other things, that reading social justice scholarship significantly reduced Black Americans’ hopefulness and motivation (Kaufmann, 2021). The author of the report speculated that, though intended to empower women and racial minorities, misleading characterizations of America as a white supremacist patriarchy may do the exact opposite. In light of this possibility, in this report we asked: “How is mental health related to believing this popular political rhetoric?”

Download Report (PADS-006)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2023). Depression and Political Ideology Skeptic Research Center, PADS-006.

Follow-up to PADS-006

Posted on Twitter on August 3, 2023

Download “Depression and Political Ideology” (PADS-006F)


How Informed Are Americans About Women’s Opportunities?

Fifth report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

Feminist academics argue that “patriarchy,” or the oppression of women in society by men, affects both public and private life. They argue, for example, that male managers exploit their female colleagues in the workplace, male script writers perpetuate demeaning views of women and girls on television, husbands force their wives into near-constant subservience in the home, and that patriarchy not only prevents women from succeeding in society but also causes numerous other problems (Bates, 2021). One activist wrote, “We need…to deconstruct and exorcise patriarchy – which is the root of so many other forms of oppression, from imperialism to racism, from transphobia to the denigration of the Earth” (Ensler, 2021). In apparent agreement, the American Psychological Association now regards masculinity as “harmful” (APA, 2018). Additionally, according to leading sociologist Barbara Risman and others, “challenging men’s dominance is [also] a necessary condition of ending the subordination of lesbians and gay men,” and that, “If as feminists, we believe that gender is socially constructed and used to create inequality, our political goal must be to move to a post-gender society” (Risman, 2004; 2009). Due to the alarming nature of these claims, in this report we ask: “How informed are Americans about women’s achievements and opportunities?”
Download Report (PADS-005)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2023). How Informed Are Americans About Women’s Opportunities? Skeptic Research Center, PADS-005.


Are “White People” Morally Deviant?

Fourth report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

For decades in the U.S., and particularly in the last few years, journalists and intellectuals have suggested that “white people” are socially or morally deviant. Time magazine, for example, published the claim that white supremacy is the “foundational principle” of culture in the U.S., preventing non-whites from having “perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect grades…[or regarded as a] perfect employee and colleague.” In 2020, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture claimed “rational thinking” and “hard work” are white supremacist ideals that oppress non-whites. In a recent opinion editorial, Savala Nolan, the Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, said “white people…disappoint me. They frustrate me. They make me sad.” Meanwhile, books describing the immorality of white people, such as Caste, How to be an Anti-Racist, and White Fragility have all soared to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. Given these strong opinions, in this report we ask: what does the public really think about the (apparent) immorality of white people?
Download Report (PADS-004)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2023). Are “White People” Morally Deviant? Skeptic Research Center, PADS-004.

Follow-up to PADS-004

Posted on Twitter on June 13, 2023

Download “Noble Savage Myth and Education” (PADS-004F)


Update: How Informed are Americans about Race and Policing?

Third report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

“Defund the police” was the rallying cry of liberals in the Summer of 2020, motivating “mostly peaceful” protests that led to property damage in excess of two billion dollars across at least 20 US states (Johansmeyer, 2021). To better understand the motivation behind these protests, in 2020, we surveyed people about their estimates of the number of unarmed black men shot by police in 2019 and found a shocking degree of inaccuracy, particularly amongst progressives. In this report, we present an update on these data and ask: have people become more knowledgeable when it comes to the available data on fatal police shootings of unarmed black Americans?
Download Report (PADS-003)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2023). Update: How Informed are Americans about Race and Policing? Skeptic Research Center, PADS-003.


Trans, Identity and Institutional Controversies

Second report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

A particularly salient culture-war issue in contemporary American society concerns the relationship between gender identity and biological sex. While some insist that peoples’ subjective interpretation of their sex is paramount, others insist objective markers (like chromosomes) are practically more relevant. Most recently, this issue has been enflamed by two central institutional controversies: biological males identifying as women competing in women’s sports leagues and sex/gender-oriented material being taught to young children in schools. Disagreement abounds, with liberals sometimes downplaying the severity of these controversies, and conservatives doing the opposite. In this report, we ask: what do Americans really think about these issues?

Download Report (PADS-002)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K., & Saide, A. (2023). Trans, Identity and Institutional Controversies. Skeptic Research Center, PADS-002.


What Do Americans Believe About Abortion and How Accurate Are They?

First report in the Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)

In this report, one of a series of reports on controversial topics in American culture, we investigated the degree to which partisans in the United States hold accurate beliefs about abortion and about each other. Herein, we covered three central questions in the American abortion debate:

  1. What abortion policies do Americans really prefer?
  2. How accurate are Americans’ beliefs about the prevalence of abortion and the recent Supreme Court ruling, and what variables influence their accuracy?
  3. How accurate are Americans regarding the abortion beliefs of other people?

The over-arching goal of this report was thus to contribute to our collective understanding of what Americans really believe, as well as how accurate they are about the topic of abortion and about one another.

Download Report (PADS-001)

Suggested Citation: McCaffree, K. & Saide, A. (2023). What Do Americans Believe About Abortion and How Accurate Are We? Skeptic Research Center, PADS-001.

11 responses to “Political Accuracy & Divisions Study (PADS)”

  1. Jennifer Palumbo says:

    The women’s opportunity “study” asks a question that is so extreme that no one could take it seriously. As a feminist I would never suggest that success was impossible for a woman. But there is a large distance between impossible and equally possible.

    This problematic, extreme language exists throughout these “studies” and reveals a misunderstanding of these issues by the authors.

  2. TRae says:

    Geraldine: It’s interesting that your final (reply) line implies the those with opinions differing from yours are muddled thinkers.

  3. OR says:

    What was the purpose for Skeptic to support a paper titled: Are “White People” Morally Deviant? The most racist themes swim throughout the writing. The response to the title is a simple two words: Donald Trump (e.g. grab them by the pussy). The great “white” hope as racists call that individual. The Founders wrote the Constitution of the USA (e.g. “colonies”) for White landed men. QED. Women and non-“white” people were not mentioned. Sadly most people in the USA do not read history. Or Playboy magazine (e.g. March 1990).

    • Tisa Garrison says:

      OR: In what countries do “most people …read history” or magazines that objectify women? This kind of hyperbolic over-generalization is very Trumpian. Check you bias.

  4. OR says:

    The paper: Update: How Informed are Americans about Race and Policing? Is literally cherry picking data by two PHD holders. The claim that only 10 unarmed Black men were killed by police in 2021 is suspect. The data set identified in 2021, 224 black men killed, 10 unarmed, 19 undetermined, 7 vehicle. A simple reading of the figures means 36 black men killed most likely unarmed. Police know what a gun, knife, club looks like (e.g. body camera). Undetermined means unarmed. Vehicle means traffic stop and qualifies as unarmed.

  5. I favor a right to abortion the day after conception, the loss of a few undifferentiated cells.
    I object to a right to abortion the day before natural birth. I believe there are some extreme cases that may give rise to exceptions to very late abortions.
    I welcome arguments as to when, between these two extremes, there can be an agreement to forbid abortions.

    • TISA GARRISON says:

      Richard: As I understand the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, this is now a regional (state level) decision. The public’s opinions on this matter are as variable as yours, thus the disparate state laws. This is a difficult decision for all concerned. Many liked it better when it was between the pregnant woman and her physician. It’s doubtful there can be an absolute on this one. For me? Not my circus, not my monkeys. It’s awful from day one.

  6. SSG says:

    The authors write: “We collected a larger proportion of non-Whites in this sample because these groups
    are typically under-represented in survey research.”

    How can you claim that the survey results are representative of the American population when you guaranteed that the results are not representative, but instead under-represent the views of Whites and over-represent the views of racial minorities? How did you decide which White respondents to exclude and which to keep?

    Since racial minorities tend to support the Democratic Party and its policy positions, over-representing them in the survey has likely made pro-abortion policies appear more popular among Americans than is actually the case. This outcome is probably very pleasing to Michael Shermer, who has repeatedly demonstrated his bias in favor of both abortion and the Democratic Party, but skewing the survey results in this way does a disservice to your readers.

    In addition to the flaw mentioned above, the section of the report that deals with the accuracy about other people’s abortion beliefs contains a surprising deficiency. While the authors make the case that people tend to overestimate the percentage of Republicans who desire an outright ban on abortion, they never explore the tendency of people to overestimate the percentage of Democrats who oppose any restrictions on abortion. It’s as if the authors want to give abortion a positive spin by saying, “look, even most Republicans support abortion at least to some extent.” Although that’s true, they just as easily could have said, “look, even most Democrats want to restrict abortion at least to some extent, including bans late in pregnancy.”

    Despite the aforementioned flaws, the report is largely clear, balanced, and non-partisan. Well done.

  7. Bruce Danckwerts says:

    Please PLEASE (Pretty Please) when presenting your report on line, for viewing on a screen, format the text as a single wide column rather than two parallel columns. The problem with double column formats is that one has to scroll up and down the page, which is a right pain.

    I think we should all be relieved to read that America is not as polarized over abortion as we might have supposed from media coverage. That should give us hope that we will eventually find policies that are wise and acceptable to the vast majority.

    • Geraldine says:

      Several decades ago I remember my dad, uncles and friends discussing politics while they worked on their cars. And even though I can remember the disagreements, no one went home with a broken nose, and no one was shot.

      We are told at work to never discuss religion or politics or any other subject that may be deemed controversial. For many people, we spend more time with coworkers than we do with our own family or friends. Therefore, we only talk to those that agree with us, and we isolate and are isolated from the ‘others.’

      This study on how aware, or not, people are, on the subject of abortion is the tip of the iceberg.

      Luckily I work with a few people who are willing to have the hard discussions. While I have not changed my mind on the subject of abortion, I now have a better understanding of why they believe as they do.

      Being a woman I have a pretty narrow view about autonomy and abortion, and I think I may have helped a person or two understand why I think the way I do.

      Like you, I hope that clearer heads prevail and policies will be enacted that the majority can live with.

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