Thomas Bräuninger, Nikolay Marinov
‪Political Elites and the `War on Truth'

Journal of Public Economics, 2022: 206, Heft February 2022, (article no. 104585)
ISSN: 0047-2727

Under what conditions do self-serving political elites choose to engage in "war on truth" (WOT)? We build on existing insights, which maintain that WOT promotes withdrawal and skepticism among voters, to show that seeding mistrust is one strategy for altering the information environment of the public. We build a formal model in which elites push the strategy when evidence on a policy issue goes against them such as during a political scandal. We characterize the "WOT trade-off" faced by initiators: immobilizing voters locks in the status quo and thereby prevents the public from enacting policy change the elite dislikes, but it also undermines future policy changes the elite may in fact like. We draw on a number of illustrations from discourse pushed by the Kremlin on Western media markets and from the informational environment in "diminished" democracies to demonstrate how our argument explains variation in the occurrence and intensity of conspiracy-spreading, one notable WOT strategy.