Cognitive Biases Influence Political Outcomes
Cognitive Biases Influence Political Outcomes
A bias is an inclination or favor towards or against something or someone. Political bias involves altering of information to make a political position or a leader appear more attractive than the opponents.
Cognitive bias can also be termed as a strong, preconceived notion of someone or something based on information we already have, think we have or lack. It’s a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are thinking, processing or interpreting data and it impacts the judgements they make. Politicians or third parties are highly likely to take advantage of the cognitive biases and end up influencing our thinking. The same happens with the media when they take advantage of cognitive biases or stereotypes and end up providing catchy headings which when they are established into the citizens minds become hard to shake off.
In the age of social media, leaders exploit the platforms to influence the users and turn them into followers. By using existing stereotypes or prejudices on their social media consistently, leaders get to influence public opinion. So, they win a huge following both online and offline. During elections, politicians and the media tend to use the cognitive biases to sway public opinion. The cognitive biases mostly used by politicians and the media are confirmation bias, coverage bias, and concision bias. Arceneaux (2012), says that people are likely to be persuaded by political arguments based on cognitive biases despite having counter argument. Duke University researchers concluded that individuals are likely to maintain a political stand even when presented with affirming or conflicting evidence (Guest Post, 2019).
Confirmation bias involves favoring or seeking information that upholds someone's pre-existing beliefs. Such people are usually rigid in their political opinions despite the existence of conflicting ideas or evidence. In a society where more people are victims to this bias, solving issues affecting them becomes an issue because the problems can only be solved when all community members work as a team. Neutralizing an already crafted political rhetoric is a tough task to undertake. Regardless of how much evidence or counter argument is presented, citizens will stick with their initial decisions.
Coverage bias is the instance where the media will air prejudiced news about something or someone. For instance, the media can share misleading information about a politician or a known stereotype about them because they do not support them. The media will twist stories and ensure the reports they give fit their narrative. A good example is reports on Donald Trump’s actions as president like the 2017 travel ban that was reported by the media differently. It varied in tone and facts of emphasis, and each issue was presented in such a way that aligns with a specific partisan agenda (Bryce, 2017). Reporting in such away only spreads biasness and the citizens will not be able to elect a leader based on their own assessment but the narrative that was sold to them by the media.
Concision bias involves use of information that is easy to get across. By doing so, more complex and detailed information is omitted. A good example is the sound bites and news headlines, which are short clips and texts from a long speech. Usually, the short clips and headlines are shared in isolation and since they leave out important context, the citizens are highly likely to miss a lot of meaningful information. Also, social media posts with short quotations are very popular today, and news reporters or opponents might only quote a short part of a long speech and share it with their audience. The problem is that the audience without the full speech will not know the context of the whole speech. It is one of the ways propaganda is being spread in favor of some parties. Without sharing full information and proper context, the multi-faceted issues in society will become extremely polarizing. In nations like the U.S the omission of proper context in news reports, can be the reason for continued partisan divide (Jones & Sun, 2020).
To solve these issues, the citizens need to first understand that the biases exist. Having knowledge on the existence of the confirmation bias,coverage bias, and concision bias can help in seeking for the truth as opposed to relying on the biased reports and narratives being shared by leaders or the media. Whether it is on social media or news channels, citizens will be able to identify the truth as opposed to prejudices. I conducted a study on DonaldTrump’s tweets and I can say that cognitive biases in the political landscape on Twitter is really about how politicians and the followers are swayed by tweets. Democrats will always view Donald Trump's social media posts negatively regardless, and the Republicans will view the same posts positively regardless. Our cognitive biases are and can be distorted changing our perspectives. Politicians do this. Media does this. What does this mean? It means that tweets can affect the decision and judgments we are making in the real world. The solution can only be found by creating a world without preconceived notions about someone and what he says.
Arceneaux, K. (2012). Cognitive biases and the strength of political arguments. American Journal of Political Science, 56(2), 271-285.
Guest Post. (2019, August 19). Are people stuck with their political views? Research Blog. https://researchblog.duke.edu/2019/07/11/are-people-stuck-with-their-political-views/
Jones, R. A., & Sun, L. G. (2020). Freedom of the Press in Post-Truthism America. Washington University Law Review, Forthcoming,20-14.