Nov 05 2012

Moderating Political Opinions

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24 Responses to “Moderating Political Opinions”

  1. mufion 05 Nov 2012 at 10:10 am

    election day will likely be little more than a national exercise in confirmation bias

    While I don’t doubt that confirmation bias is a strong force in human decision-making, I also would not assume that every one is equally deluded by it (including skeptics?), or that all voters are equally misled by political distortions.

    For example, if we measure the claims of this year’s presidential candidates against the Washington Post’s fact-checking column, we find that Michelle Bachman has the highest average of “Pinocchios” (the Post’s rating system for false claims), followed by Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. The two nominees have the lowest average (which is good!), but Romney’s average is still higher than Obama’s. [source]

    That Obama has the lowest average of Pinocchios is a feather in his cap (although it is arguably still too high, politics notwithstanding). Given the powerful role of values (or priorities) in deciding elections, I expect that knowledge will only go so far in guiding one’s decision of whom to vote for (cf. the “pious lie”).

  2. SARAon 05 Nov 2012 at 10:26 am

    I force myself to walk through a systematic review each election. First I define (again) what i want in a president and what issues matter the most to me.

    Then I review the evidence. It’s hard, because I naturally walk into the process with a conscious bias.

    Reviewing the evidence is where it gets tricky. No only that, reviewing the evidence is made murkier by candidates themselves. Thankfully, fact checkers exist, but as mufi notes, by the time you are done fact checking, you don’t really trust either of them.

    In the end, I had to set aside their reprehensible lying. Which in and of itself is nuts.

    But even then, I spent the entire process fighting with my bias and never knowing if I was really being objective. In fact, I think I was never properly objective, despite all my efforts.

    In the end, I went with my confirmation bias because I place a huge amount of weight on keeping religion out of legislation. Which is why the bias existed in the first place.

  3. HHCon 05 Nov 2012 at 10:32 am

    Abstract thinking is limited by religious doctrine, e.g. Catholic doctrine or Mormon. Are you going to vote different than your friends, family members, preachers, or preferred media? Analysis requires time and a stay on your reaction. I suggest you do your analysis before you deal with complex voting equipment on November 6th, 2012.

  4. mufion 05 Nov 2012 at 11:17 am

    SARA: Thankfully, fact checkers exist, but as mufi notes, by the time you are done fact checking, you don’t really trust either of them.

    Well, at least according to the Pinocchio Tracker, you can trust Obama to tell the truth more often than Romney – just not all the time. Also, we’re only talking about what they tell us while on the campaign trail. Perhaps there are fewer incentives for politicians to bend the truth while serving in office.

    I think I was never properly objective, despite all my efforts.

    If you’re following the fact-checking on both sides, then I think you’re acting as a responsible skeptic.

    The question for me is: If Obama had the higher Pinocchio average, would I still vote for him? And I think the honest answer is: Probably, although it might depend on what he’s lied about.

    After all, Romney tends to turn me off even when I believe he’s telling the truth! That’s partly based on a negative character assessment, but it’s also based on a negative assessment of what I think he’s likely to do, if elected President.

  5. SARAon 05 Nov 2012 at 11:31 am

    #Mufi
    I think comparing the lying numbers of our politicians and rating them on it is the saddest commentary on the political process. Somehow Obama gets to be called better because he lied fewer times.

    Both sides did it deliberately because it works. Because, and again this goes back to the need for critical thinking, most people accept what is said by their favorite and just want enough evidence to support their existing bias. So lying works.

    I think the interesting thing is the fact that google’s filter bubble identified me as liberal. As a result all of the ads I saw on the internet were for Obama.

    If the candidates had truly been trying to prove their case to the opposition and undecided, why didn’t they either target their ads to the opposite bias or cover both sides of the fence.

  6. HHCon 05 Nov 2012 at 11:59 am

    Romnesia refers to not remembering what position you took, when you took it, or where you mentioned it. Its hard to debate someone who stands squarely in the middle of the road but does not know why.

  7. mufion 05 Nov 2012 at 12:12 pm

    SARA:

    Based on polling analysis and forecast models (e.g. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model), Obama is favored to win tomorrow.

    Now, I realize that you’re not claiming that lying works better than anything else (e.g. a sound resume, personal charisma, organizational backing, campaign funds, etc.), but there are clearly limitations to the efficacy of lying if the favorite is also the more honest campaigner (again, based on Washington Post fact-checking).

    That aside, the fact-checkers themselves constitute a sort of tribe, whose purpose is not merely to “unspin” the spin and get at the truth of the matter, but also to protect its reputation as unbiased and nonpartisan. I realize that I’m not objective about this, but my opinion is that those Pinocchio scores understate the degree to which the Romney campaign has tried to mislead the electorate, as the Washington Post editorial staff affirmed earlier this week:

    Mr. Romney…seems to be betting that voters have no memories, poor arithmetic skills and a general inability to look behind the curtain. We hope the results Tuesday prove him wrong.

    [source]

  8. Bronze Dogon 05 Nov 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve gone independent, though if a Republican told me grass was green, I’d go outside and double check. I give Democrats a little more trust, but I feel alienated from that tribe, so a lot of the rallying stuff I got in my email this election has fallen pretty flat.

  9. mufion 05 Nov 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Bronze: I’ve gone in the opposite direction, from independent to Democrat. At first blush, this had to do with state law – the fact that I can’t vote in a party primary here unless I’m registered with that party. But it also surely had to do with our two-party system, which is reinforced by our “winner take all” voting system. I’d rather have more electable choices than just two, but given that dilemma, there’s no question that I prefer the Democratic platform to the Republican one.

  10. DOYLEon 05 Nov 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Some people who are capable of abstract thought,still suffer from top shelf bias.They have an issue that enslaves them to a politician, aberent and atypical of the rest of their thinking.This bias is usually a reflexive one of race,religion, abortion or guns.

  11. HHCon 05 Nov 2012 at 2:14 pm

    There are legal abortion rights, and I don’t want to be enslaved by going backwards.

  12. Bronze Dogon 05 Nov 2012 at 3:06 pm

    @mufi: I mostly meant independent in a sense of identity, rather than what I’m registered as. I should probably register as Democrat to try to exert my meager influence to steer them the way I want through primaries, though I think I’d still feel like an outsider.

  13. HHCon 05 Nov 2012 at 3:52 pm

    I think people try to go backwards, pretending we don’t have laws and their legal interpretations because they want a quick fix for our debt. Our nation was built on the debt of the states. How we address our fiscal affairs requires us to do the critical thinking which many politicians and voters are afraid to do.

  14. BobbyGon 05 Nov 2012 at 4:41 pm

    “The talk of the pundits generally focuses on the fact that this is a very close election and, despite rhetoric from both candidates about bipartisanship, the country seems to be extremely politically polarized.”
    __

    The major media are the equivalent of Sport Books. They try to help shape the election to be a seen as a dramatic “squeaker.” Keep people glued to their TVs. Nothing personal, just Business. No bookie wants a lopsided line; it reduces the Vig.

    Beyond that, we don’t argue to get at “truth.” We argue to “get over,” to prevail without having to resort to violence (notwithstanding the recent dog whistle wafts threatening “Second Amendment Remedies”).

    See “Why Do Humans Reason?”

    Trail Lawyering 101.

  15. BillyJoe7on 05 Nov 2012 at 5:29 pm

    I listen to electioneering by politicians merely as a form of amusement.

    In my opinion, if you decide on who to vote for, or which party to vote for, on the basis of what you are told in the election campaign, you will make your decision based on lies, and promises that will be broken. Indeed, some election promises need to be broken because their only purpose was to get elected, not to promote the best interests of the country.

    You need to have your mind made up before the election campaign, and it should be on the basis of which party’s policies you feel are in the best interests of the country, not which party’s policies are best for you personally. Which of course means that you are voting for policies, not politicians. Voting for Obama or Romney is exactly the wrong way to vote.

    Having said that….GO OBAMA!
    (Only because that means that the Republican Party will lose)

  16. Heptronon 05 Nov 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Let me preface this post by saying that I’m Canadian, so I’m less in the loop about voting in the US… Maybe.
    One thing that I’ve noticed is that people assume that policies put into place are in effect instantly. They forget that if you want to enact big changes it takes a long time. It was described to me in an economics class as the ‘fool in the shower’. You jump in the shower and it’s cold, so you turn it up. The water doesn’t get hot right away, so you turn it up more. The water warms up… But then gets too hot so you turn it down, but it’s still hot so you turn it down more, and repeat. This is why it bugs me when people hold current government completely accountable for the situations they are in. Maybe the reason that the US was losing jobs into Obama’s first 4 years was because it took time for the previous government’s plans to come into play, then time to change them. Why this bugs me is that if Romney gets elected and things are heading in the right direction, he gets credit. (Yes I am a little biased based on my views, but I feel like Obama was dealt a garbage hand and it takes a while to fix things)
    How do others feel about this? Am I guilty of logical fallacies?
    Speaking of jobs, it bothers me when people quote unemployment numbers. My understanding is that unemployment doesn’t factor in people who have stopped looking for work. So when more jobs are created or the economy turns around, more people get back to looking for work, which means an increase in the unemployment rate. Conversely, when the economy slumps, people stop looking for work and the unemployment rate drops since there are fewer people looking for work.
    Again, is this the case in the US? Is there something I’m missing here?

  17. ccbowerson 05 Nov 2012 at 9:09 pm

    From my experience applying skepticism to topics tends to result in more nuanced and accurate understanding – viewing this as moderate is a less accurate approximation of nuance in many situations. I don’t think there is symmetry with respect to the “two sides” of our political system, because nuanced thinking is definitely more common on the left in the US at this time.

    I have found though, that many people do not like to be put in situations in which they are forced to think contemplatively or abstractly, because it forces them to reevaluate matters in which they previously settled on an “answer.” Although this “answer” may not be correct, it was compatible with their ideological committments and worldview, and there is a strong tendency to dismiss information that doesn’t mesh well with this. Of course I just discribed confirmation bias, which means that getting people to apply skepticism is a solution to our polarization problem. How to do that is the real question

  18. mufion 06 Nov 2012 at 9:58 am

    BillyJoe7: When I cast my ballot for Obama this morning, I had in mind what the person stands for.

    First and foremost, I think what Obama stands for is a particular set of values (or priorities), which differs significantly from that which Romney stands for. More to the point, I believe that their policy differences (which are sharper in “domestic” category than they are in “foreign” category) follow from those different value (or priority) sets.

    In that sense, I voted for the person who I believe most shares my values.

    [Note that I did not say "interests", as the term often suggests egoism, whereas I think of my values as being altruistic, as well.]

    Heptron: Yes, that’s how it works in the US, as well. That’s why, even though the US added jobs last month, the unemployment rate rose (by a decimal point, if I recall correctly), because more out-of-work people were actually back in the job-seeking market.

    ccbowers: Contemplative/reflective/analytical thought consumes time and energy that’s often not available to us – even if we possess the will or desire to overcome our tribal instincts. It’s simply much more efficient to stick with the information sources that we’ve already come to trust as reliable (albeit, fallible).

  19. ccbowerson 06 Nov 2012 at 3:14 pm

    mufi-

    “It’s simply much more efficient to stick with the information sources that we’ve already come to trust as reliable (albeit, fallible).”

    I agree, but my point was that there are people who are very averse to contradictory information, even if that information is clearly correct. Of course we all have moments in which we are not ready or willing to acknowledge contradictory information due to fatigue or current state, but I’ve noticed substantial difference between individuals… I believe our last 2 presidents are very different in this regard.

  20. BillyJoe7on 07 Nov 2012 at 5:33 am

    mufi,

    We’re on the same boat.

    “When I cast my ballot for Obama this morning, I had in mind what the person stands for.”
    That’s what I meant, don’t vote for the person, vote for the policies.

    “I voted for the person who I believe most shares my values.”
    Again, that’s what I meant, vote for the values, not the hip pocket.

    And congratulations on our man getting in.
    (except that I was unable to vote)

  21. ccbowerson 07 Nov 2012 at 8:20 am

    Dick Morris demonstrated confirmation bias very well by predicting a Romney landslide for months, and even giving him 325 electoral votes just 2 days ago, while those who attempt to look at the data dispassionately and systematically did very well in predicting the results (Nate Silver may have gotten 50/50 right but he’s not the only one who did well). Cherry picking polls and going with your “gut” do not stand up to reality- despite how hard some people try we are not entitled to our own facts

  22. BillyJoe7on 07 Nov 2012 at 3:30 pm

    “Dick Morris demonstrated confirmation bias very well by predicting a Romney landslide for months, and even giving him 325 electoral votes just 2 days ago”

    My son immersed himself in American politics over the past few months and his conclusion was that Obama would win confortably, and that Romney never had any real chance of winning, and that the popular vote would be close but go narrowly to Obama.

    I not sure if that last prediction has been decided yet but, on last view, Obama was indeed narrowly ahead.

  23. ccbowerson 08 Nov 2012 at 9:56 am

    “My son immersed himself in American politics over the past few months and his conclusion was that Obama would win confortably, and that Romney never had any real chance of winning, and that the popular vote would be close but go narrowly to Obama.”

    That was close to the concensus view of most informed and reasonable people going into the election (but most allowed for a small chance for Romney to win if a few ‘swing states’ went his way- since many of those states were quite close), but of course with most close elections carried enough uncertainty. I wonder how common it is in your part of the world to follow American politics?- I can tell you that the reverse is not too common

  24. raylideron 13 Nov 2012 at 12:17 am

    I see a lot of complaining about Obama and Romney. You say they both lie a lot, you say you’re forced to chose the “lesser” of two evils, as if there are no other choices. Judging from this blog post and the comments, it appears as though there were only two candidates. Did no one here vote for Gary Johnson? Did no one here want to vote for a candidate that actually does what he says? Did no one here want to vote for a candidate that wouldn’t bomb other countries? That had any chance of bringing peace?

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