High-status lobbyists are most likely to overrate their success

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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.

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Data availability

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/.

Code availability

Our custom analysis script is available in the Open Science Framework repository at https://osf.io/5xayz/.


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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.

Author information

B.A.L., A.M.M. and J.R. designed the study and conducted the analysis. B.A.L. and A.M.M. drafted the initial manuscript. B.A.L., A.M.M. and J.R. revised the manuscript.

Correspondence to Benjamin A. Lyons.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary handling editor: Aisha Bradshaw

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Distribution of relative perceived success.

Values are frequencies of relative perceived success scores.

Extended Data Fig. 2

Lobbyists’ Over- and Underconfidence, by Activities and Characteristics.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Legislative Outcome, by Lobbyist 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.

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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

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