Letter

On the misplaced politics of behavioural policy interventions

  • Nature Human Behaviour volume 1, Article number: 0130 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0130
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Abstract

Government agencies around the world have begun to embrace the use of behavioural policy interventions (such as the strategic use of default options), which has inspired vigorous public discussion about the ethics of their use. Since any feasible policy requires some measure of public support, understanding when people find behavioural policy interventions acceptable is critical. We present experimental evidence for a ‘partisan nudge bias’ in both US adults and practising policymakers. Across a range of policy settings, people find the general use of behavioural interventions more ethical when illustrated by examples that accord with their politics, but view those same interventions as more unethical when illustrated by examples at odds with their politics. Importantly, these differences disappear when behavioural interventions are stripped of partisan cues, suggesting that acceptance of such policy tools is not an inherently partisan issue. Our results suggest that opposition to (or support for) behavioural policy interventions should not always be taken at face value, as people appear to conflate their attitudes about general purpose policy methods with their attitudes about specific policy objectives or policy sponsors.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to D. King at the Harvard Kennedy School for assistance with the data collection for study 3, and to C. McLaughlin and C. Flynn at the Harvard Institute of Politics for assistance with the data collection for study 4. We also thank D. Walters and C. Erner for their useful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. No funders had any role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Eccles School of Business, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.

    • David Tannenbaum
  2. Anderson School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.

    • Craig R. Fox
  3. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

    • Todd Rogers

Authors

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Contributions

D.T., C.R.F. and T.R. designed all the experiments, D.T. oversaw the data collection for experiments 1 and 2, T.R. oversaw the data collection for experiments 3 and 4, D.T. analysed the data for all the experiments in consultation with C.R.F., and D.T., C.R.F. and T.R. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Tannenbaum.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Discussion (S1–S7), Supplementary Figures 1–2, Supplementary References.