Overconfidence helps individuals reach higher status within social groups by making them seem more competent regardless of objective ability, so this bias may be especially prevalent among status-oriented members of elite communities. Based on this premise, we explore whether lobbyists in the USA misperceive their success. Using models that (1) control for legislative outcome when predicting self-assessed policy success and (2) compare self-assessed policy success on specific proposals against the average success reported by all lobbyists working on the same side of an issue, we identify systematic tendencies to overrate achievements. Lobbyists with higher incomes, who reside in Washington, DC, USA, have congressional experience and who engage in a broader range of activities are more likely to overrate their success. Public interest group lobbyists tend to underestimate success. We conclude that political elites are subject to the same biases as others when evaluating their performance, and these biases may be largely status-driven.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.67 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The Heinz et al. data19 are available from the Inter-University Consortium of Political and Social Research at https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/studies/6040. Our custom data are available in the Open Science Framework repository at https://osf.io/5xayz/.
Our custom analysis script is available in the Open Science Framework repository at https://osf.io/5xayz/.
Mayhew, D. R. Congress: The Electoral Connection, Vol. 26 (Yale Univ. Press, 1974).
Davis, D. A. et al. Accuracy of physician self-assessment compared with observed measures of competence: a systematic review. JAMA 296, 1094–1102 (2006).
Falchikov, N. & Boud, D. Student self-assessment in higher education: a meta-analysis. Rev. Educ. Res. 59, 395–430 (1989).
Mabe, P. A. & West, S. G. Validity of self-evaluation of ability: a review and meta-analysis. J. Appl. Psychol. 67, 280 (1982).
Finn, B. Framing effects on metacognitive monitoring and control. Mem. Cognit. 36, 813–821 (2008).
Nevid, J. S., Cheney, B. & Thompson, C. ‘But I thought I knew that!’ Student confidence judgments on course examinations in introductory psychology. Teach. Psychol. 42, 330–334 (2015).
Weinstein, Y. & Roediger, H. L. Retrospective bias in test performance: providing easy items at the beginning of a test makes students believe they did better on it. Mem. Cognit. 38, 366–376 (2010).
Baekgaard, M., Christensen, J., Dahlmann, C. M., Mathiasen, A. & Petersen, N. B. G. The role of evidence in politics: motivated reasoning and persuasion among politicians. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 49, 1117–1140 (2017).
Anderson, C., Brion, S., Moore, D. A. & Kennedy, J. A. A status-enhancement account of overconfidence. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 103, 718 (2012).
Cruz, C. & Schneider, C. J. Foreign aid and undeserved credit claiming. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 61, 396–408 (2017).
Hill, M. D., Kelly, G. W., Lockhart, G. B. & Van Ness, R. A. Determinants and effects of corporate lobbying. Financ. Manage. 42, 931–957 (2013).
Kim, J.-H. Corporate lobbying revisited. Bus. Polit. 10, 1–23 (2008).
Bernhagen, P., Dür, A. & Marshall, D. Measuring lobbying success spatially. Interest Groups Advoc. 3, 202–218 (2014).
McKay, A. Buying policy? The effects of lobbyists’ resources on their policy success. Polit. Res. Quart. 65, 908–923 (2012).
Baumgartner, F. R. & Leech, B. L. Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and in Political Science (Princeton Univ. Press, 1998).
Baumgartner, F. R., Berry, J. M., Hojnacki, M., Leech, B. L. & Kimball, D. C. Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why (Univ. Chicago Press, 2009).
Baron, D. P. Competitive lobbying and supermajorities in a majority-rule institution. Scand. J. Econ. 108, 607–642 (2006).
Egdell, J. M. & Thomson, K. J. The influence of UK NGOs on the Common Agricultural Policy. J. Common Mark. Stud. 37, 121–131 (1999).
Heinz, J. P., Laumann, E. O., Nelson, R. L. & Salisbury, R. H. The Hollow Core. Private Interests in the National Policy Making (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993).
Dunning, D., Heath, C. & Suls, J. M. Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychol. Sci. Public Interest 5, 69–106 (2004).
Glenberg, A. M., Wilkinson, A. C. & Epstein, W. The illusion of knowing: failure in the self-assessment of comprehension. Mem. Cognit. 10, 597–602 (1982).
Moore, D. A. & Healy, P. J. The trouble with overconfidence. Psychol. Rev. 115, 502 (2008).
Alicke, M. & Govorun, O. The better-than-average effect. Self Soc. Judgm. 1, 85–106 (2005).
Haun, D. E., Zeringue, A., Leach, A. & Foley, A. Assessing the competence of specimen-processing personnel. Lab. Med. 31, 633–637 (2000).
Ehrlinger, J. & Dunning, D. How chronic self-views influence (and potentially mislead) estimates of performance. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 84, 5 (2003).
Camerer, C. & Lovallo, D. Overconfidence and excess entry: an experimental approach. Am. Econ. Rev. 89, 306–318 (1999).
Neale, M. A. & Bazerman, M. H. The effects of framing and negotiator overconfidence on bargaining behaviors and outcomes. Acad. Manag. J. 28, 34–49 (1985).
Dunning, D. The Dunning–Kruger effect: on being ignorant of one’s own ignorance. Adv. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 44, 247–296 (2011).
Leech, B. L. in Maisel, S. L. & Berry, J. M. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of American Political Parties and Interest Groups (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010).
Alicke, M. Global self-evaluation as determined by the desirability and controllability of trait adjectives. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 49, 1621 (1985).
Dunning, D., Leuenberger, A. & Sherman, D. A. A new look at motivated inference: are self-serving theories of success a product of motivational forces? J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 69, 58 (1995).
Kunda, Z. Motivated inference: self-serving generation and evaluation of causal theories. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 53, 636 (1987).
Miller, D. T. & Ross, M. Self-serving biases in the attribution of causality: fact or fiction? Psychol. Bull. 82, 213–225 (1975).
Russo, J. E. & Schoemaker, P. J. Managing overconfidence. Sloan Manag. Rev. 33, 7 (1992).
Kruger, J. & Dunning, D. Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 77, 1121 (1999).
Dunning, D., Meyerowitz, J. A. & Holzberg, A. D. Ambiguity and self-evaluation: the role of idiosyncratic trait definitions in self-serving assessments of ability. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 57, 1082 (1989).
Ross, L., Mark, R. & Hubbard, M. Perseverance in self-perception and social perception: biased attributional processes in the debriefing paradigm. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 32, 880 (1975).
Kennedy, J. A., Anderson, C. & Moore, D. A. When overconfidence is revealed to others: testing the status-enhancement theory of overconfidence. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 122, 266–279 (2013).
Josephs, R. A., Sellers, J. G., Newman, M. L. & Mehta, P. H. The mismatch effect: when testosterone and status are at odds. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 90, 999 (2006).
Willer, R., Rogalin, C. L., Conlon, B. & Wojnowicz, M. T. Overdoing gender: a test of the masculine overcompensation thesis. Am. J. Sociol. 118, 980–1022 (2013).
LaPira, T. M. & Thomas, H. F. Revolving Door Lobbying: Public Service, Private Influence, and the Unequal Representation of Interests (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2017).
Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C. & Eagly, A. H. Diminishing returns: the effects of income on the content of stereotypes of wage earners. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 28, 1538–1545 (2002).
Lazear, E. P. Overconfidence and Occupational Choice NBER Working Papers 21921 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016).
Ross, M. & Sicoly, F. Egocentric biases in availability and attribution. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 37, 322 (1979).
Williamson, W. J. & Johnston, J. Understanding, evaluating and improving nursing productivity. Nurs. Manage. 19, 49–55 (1988).
Parker, S. K. Enhancing role breadth self-efficacy: the roles of job enrichment and other organizational interventions. J. Appl. Psychol. 83, 835 (1998).
Dür, A. Measuring interest group influence in the EU: a note on methodology. Eur. Union Polit. 9, 559–576 (2008).
Mahoney, C. Lobbying success in the United States and the European Union. J. Public Policy 27, 35–56 (2007).
Klüver, H. Lobbying in the European Union: Interest Groups, Lobbying Coalitions, and Policy Change (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013).
Burstein, P. American Public Opinion, Advocacy, and Policy in Congress: What the Public Wants and What It Gets (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Walker, J. L. Mobilizing Interest Groups in America: Patrons, Professions, and Social Movements (Univ. Michigan Press, 1991).
Jordan, G. & Maloney, W. A. Manipulating membership: supply-side influences on group size. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 28, 389–409 (1998).
This project has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 682785). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Primary handling editor: Aisha Bradshaw
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Values are frequencies of relative perceived success scores.
Lobbyists’ Over- and Underconfidence, by Activities and Characteristics.
Preferred outcome coefficients (realized/not realized) are derived from a multivariate probit regression model including both models. The linear term model is an ordered probit model.
About this article
Cite this article
Lyons, B.A., McKay, A.M. & Reifler, J. High-status lobbyists are most likely to overrate their success. Nat Hum Behav (2019) doi:10.1038/s41562-019-0761-9