3 Reasons Why People Fall For Politicians' Lies

3 Reasons Why People Fall For Politicians' LiesWhy do people make such poor decisions about politics? Why are they so often distracted by lies, irrelevant alternatives and specious arguments?

Politicians use and abuse statistics and fabricate when it suits their purposes. Contemporary examples of either deliberate or inadvertent misuse of data are easy to find on all sides of the political divide, from the Trump administration’s claim that U.S. border officials detained “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” last year at the Mexican border to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s December tweet asserting that “66 percent of Medicare for All could have been funded already” with the money spent on the Pentagon’s accounting errors.

The notion of politically related lying with numbers has been around a long time, back at least to Mark Twain in a 1906 book in which he attributed the phrase “lies, damn lies and statistics” to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Lots of others claim parentage of the phrase or are given credit for coining it.

I have spent 40 years teaching and publishing in political science and statistics, focused on helping students become critical thinkers. I believe that politicians can get away with lies so easily because the public is not trained to critically consume statistical information or to defend against other (dis)information that is deliberately designed to mislead.

1. Lack of statistical skills

It’s difficult to be a critical consumer of statistical information, because that requires the ability to process numeric data in context.

Many Americans do not do well with processing information about numbers and consequently may make poor decisions. People who are more numerate are less susceptible to being led to a false conclusion, are less affected by their mood, and are more aware of the levels of risk associated with actions and decisions.

For example, if you flip four coins in a row, what’s the probability of getting two heads? Most people guess 50 percent. Figuring out that the answer is actually 37.5 percent takes some work and is not intuitive. So is understanding that a run of nine consecutive tails does not mean that the tenth coin flip is likely to be a head.

In the same way, it’s easy for people to believe the tweet from President Donald Trump, based on outdated information from the Texas secretary of state that “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID! @foxandfriends.”

In reality, proven cases of voter fraud are rare and voter lists often are inaccurate about current citizenship status. A scary-sounding statement that “58,000 non-citizens voted” should trigger immediate head-scratching and fact-checking; as it has turned out, most of the alleged illegal votes were cast by people who subsequently had become citizens and eligible to vote.

2. Letting emotions get the better of you

It’s easy for politicians to take advantage of what Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon calls “bounded rationality.” “Bounded rationality” is about being influenced by emotions, preconceived notions and things I may think I know but really don’t.

What’s more, political figures can get away with saying things that don’t square with the facts, because it would take too much effort for the average person to fact-check everything for accuracy.

Coupled with this is the psychological process of “confirmation bias.” If you hear or read or someone tells you something that sounds wrong to you, you tend to block out ideas, facts or data that don’t jibe with your current beliefs.

Confirmation bias can apply to a wide array of issues, including gun control, sexual double standards and more.

3 Reasons Why People Fall For Politicians' LiesEmotions can sway people to believe untrue statements. Worawee Meepian/shutterstock.com

3. Overestimating your own knowledge

This brings us to the Dunning–Kruger effect.

People with lesser abilities tend to overstate their level of knowledge and understanding. If I see a bad call by a football referee, my first reaction might be to say that I could have gotten that call right, but I’m totally not trained as a referee and wouldn’t have a clue about what call to make on most plays.

This perception of illusory superiority comes from people not being equipped to realize that they don’t know what they don’t know. That in turn makes it all the more difficult to separate out “fake news” from reality. In a 2017 study, researchers Chris Vargo at the University of Colorado and Lei Guo and Michelle Amazeen at Boston University showed that false reports are instrumental in setting the news agenda for partisan media, despite fact-checkers’ efforts. Other research shows that most Americans who see fake news believe it.

Combined with a general lack of knowledge about political processes, these mental processes make it tough for anyone to understand the facts about major issues. Elected public officials are hired by the electorate precisely because they are good at saying things you like to hear. They are rewarded for what they say – rather than for doing the right thing.The Conversation

About The Author

Mack Clayton Shelley, II, University Professor of Political Science, Statistics, and School of Education, and Chair of the Department of Political Science, Iowa State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

List Price: $199.95
Sale Price: $199.95 $108.77 You save: $91.18


List Price: $189.95
Sale Price: $189.95 $96.16 You save: $93.79


List Price: $229.95
Sale Price: $229.95 $88.99 You save: $140.96


enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

POLITICS

China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Why Companies Should Let Their Workers Join The Climate Strike
Why Companies Should Let Their Workers Join The Climate Strike
by Ian McGregor
Multinational ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s will close its Australian stores for this month’s global climate strike…
Investing Billions in New Projects, Fossil Fuel Corporations Are Undermining World's Climate Targets
Investing Billions in New Projects, Fossil Fuel Corporations Are Undermining World's Climate Targets
by Julia Conley
These dirty fossil fuel companies are not getting the message, let alone acting on the urgency of the climate crisis.
Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet
Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet
by Denise Baden
Tackling climate change will require huge changes in society. Decarbonising energy, restoring habitat and making food…
How Many Americans Believe In Climate Change?
How Many Americans Believe In Climate Change?
by Matthew Houser
Indiana certainly doesn’t look like a state that’s ready to confront climate change. Its former governor, Vice…
How Indigenous Peoples' Lives Are Being Destroyed By Global Agribusiness In Brazil
How Indigenous Peoples' Lives Are Being Destroyed By Global Agribusiness In Brazil
by Francesca Fois and Silvio Marcio Montenegro Machado
For more than half a century, the indigenous Kaiowá and Guarani people of Brazil have been deprived of their ancestral…
Canadians In Every Riding Support Climate Action
Canadians In Every Riding Support Climate Action
by Matto Mildenberger and Erick Lachapelle
Canada is gearing up for a big election this fall and climate policy will likely be at the centre of debate.

LATEST VIDEOS

Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds Shocking Loss of Volume
by Mauri Pelto
The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer…
Breakdown In Coral Reef Iconic Spawning Puts Species At Risk Of Extinction
Breakdown In Coral Reef Iconic Spawning Puts Species At Risk Of Extinction
by Heidi Burdett
Breakdown In Coral Reef Iconic Spawning Puts Species At Risk Of Extinction
How Climate Change Is Driving Emigration From Central America
How Climate Change Is Driving Emigration From Central America
by Miranda Cady Hallett
Clouds of dust rose behind the wheels of the pickup truck as we hurtled over the back road in Palo Verde, El Salvador.

LATEST ARTICLES

Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
Roiled By Trump Politics, NOAA Seeks Accountability, Atonement
by MSNBC
Rachel Maddow reports on the backlash within the weather science community over an unsigned statement from NOAA…
Extreme Cities: Ground Zero for Climate Change
by The Laura Flanders Show
No matter how we tackle climate change, cities are key.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
We Need More Carbon In Our Soil To Help Australian Farmers Through The Drought
We Need More Carbon In Our Soil To Help Australian Farmers Through The Drought
by Nanthi Bolan
Australia has never been a stranger to droughts, but climate change is now super-charging them.
Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction
Climate Breakdown Is Pushing Brazil's Iconic Araucaria Tree To Extinction
by Oliver Wilson
For hundreds of thousands of years, the distinctive candelabra shapes of Araucaria trees (Araucaria angustifolia) have…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…