Original Paper

Political Behavior

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 301-323

First online:

When Do the Ends Justify the Means? Evaluating Procedural Fairness

  • David DohertyAffiliated withLoyola University ChicagoYale University
  • , Jennifer WolakAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of Colorado at Boulder Email author 

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How do people decide whether a political process is fair or unfair? Concerned about principles of justice, people might carefully evaluate procedural fairness based on the facts of the case. Alternately, people could be guided by their prior preferences, endorsing the procedures that produce favored policy outcomes as fair and rating those that generate disliked outcomes as unfair. Using an experimental design, we consider the conditions under which people use accuracy goals versus directional goals in evaluating political processes. We find that when procedures are clearly fair or unfair, people make unbiased assessments of procedural justice. When the fairness of a process is ambiguous, people are more likely to use their prior attitudes as a guide.


Fairness Procedural justice Motivated reasoning