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11 Cognitive Biases That Influence Political Outcomes

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Cognitive Biases in the Political Arena

With the 2020 U.S. presidential election fast approaching, many people will be glued to the 24-hour news cycle to stay up to date on political developments. Yet, when searching for facts, our own cognitive biases often get in the way.

If this isn’t problematic enough, third parties can also take advantage of these biases to influence our thinking. The media, for example, can exploit our tendency to assign stereotypes to others by only providing catchy, surface-level information. Once established in our minds, these generalizations can be tough to shake off.

Such tactics can have a powerful influence on public opinion if applied consistently to a broad audience. To help us avoid these mental pitfalls, today’s infographic from PredictIt lists common cognitive biases that influence the realm of politics, beginning with the “Big Cs”.

The First C: Confirmation Bias

People exhibit confirmation bias when they seek information that only affirms their pre-existing beliefs. This can cause them to become overly rigid in their political opinions, even when presented with conflicting ideas or evidence.

When too many people fall victim to this bias, progress towards solving complex sociopolitical issues is thwarted. That’s because solving these issues in a bipartisan system requires cooperation from both sides of the spectrum.

A reluctance towards establishing a common ground is already widespread in America. According to a 2019 survey, 70% of Democrats believed their party’s leaders should “stand up” to President Trump, even if less gets done in Washington. Conversely, 51% of Republicans believed that Trump should “stand up” to Democrats.

In light of these developments, researchers have conducted studies to determine if the issue of confirmation bias is as prevalent as it seems. In one experiment, participants chose to either support or oppose a given sociopolitical issue. They were then presented with evidence that was conflicting, affirming, or a combination of both.

In all scenarios, participants were most likely to stick with their initial decisions. Of those presented with conflicting evidence, just one in five changed their stance. Furthermore, participants who maintained their initial positions became even more confident in the superiority of their decision—a testament to how influential confirmation bias can be.

The Second C: Coverage Bias

Coverage bias, in the context of politics, is a form of media bias where certain politicians or topics are disproportionately covered. In some cases, media outlets can even twist stories to fit a certain narrative.

For example, research from the University of South Florida analyzed media coverage on President Trump’s 2017 travel ban. It was discovered that primetime media hosts covered the ban through completely different perspectives.

Each host varied drastically in tone, phrasing, and facts of emphasis, […] presenting each issue in a manner that aligns with a specific partisan agenda.

—Josepher, Bryce (2017)

Charting the ideological placement of each source’s audience can help us gain a better understanding of the coverage bias at work. In other words, where do people on the left, middle, and right get their news?

cognitive bias in media and politics

The horizontal axis in this graphic corresponds to the Ideological Consistency Scale, which is composed of 10 questions. For each question, respondents are assigned a “-1” for a liberal response, “+1” for a conservative response, or a “0” for other responses. A summation of these scores places a respondent into one of five categories:

Ideological CategoryRanking
Consistently conservative+7 to +10
Mostly conservative+3 to +6
Mixed-2 to +2
Mostly liberal-6 to -3
Consistently liberal -10 to -7

Overcoming coverage bias—which dovetails into other biases like confirmation bias—may require us to follow a wider variety of sources, even those we may not initially agree with.

The Third C: Concision Bias

Concision bias is a type of bias where politicians or the media selectively focus on aspects of information that are easy to get across. In the process, more nuanced and delicate views get omitted from popular discourse.

A common application of concision bias is the use of sound bites, which are short clips that can be taken out of a politician’s speech. When played in isolation, these clips may leave out important context for the audience.

Without the proper context, multi-faceted issues can become extremely polarizing, and may be a reason for the growing partisan divide in America. In fact, there is less overlap in the political values of Republicans and Democrats than ever previously measured.

In 1994, just 64% of Republicans were more conservative than the median Democrat. By 2017, that margin had grown considerably, to 95% of Republicans. The same trend can be found on the other end of the spectrum. Whereas 70% of Democrats were more liberal than the median Republican in 1994, this proportion increased to 97% by 2017.

Overcoming Our Biases

Achieving full self-awareness can be difficult, especially when new biases emerge in our constantly evolving world. So where do we begin?

Simply remembering these mental pitfalls exist can be a great start—after all, we can’t fix what we don’t know. Individuals concerned about the upcoming presidential election may find it useful to focus their attention on the Big Cs, as these biases can play a significant role in shaping political beliefs. Maintaining an open mindset and diversifying the media sources we follow are two tactics that may act as a hedge.

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Politics

Mapped: The Top Trading Partner of Every U.S. State

At the national level, Canada and China are top U.S. trading partners. While this generally extends to the state level, there are some surprises too.

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The Top Trading Partner of Every U.S. State

The U.S. is highly dependent—perhaps unsurprisingly—on Canada and Mexico for trade. The country’s top trading partner is Mexico, making up 14.8% of total trade.

However, the country’s neighbors to the north and south are not the only trade partners that U.S. states rely heavily upon. This map from HowMuch.net uses flags to show which country each U.S. state is importing the most from. Below, there is an additional graphic showing where each state is exporting the highest amount of goods and services to.

Who are the States Importing From?

The U.S. has a few natural and obvious trading partners, whether due to geographical closeness or strong economic ties.

The obvious candidates for top trading partners have already been mentioned, Canada and Mexico—and these two do show up at the state level as well. For example, Michigan gets 40.9% of its imports from Mexico, and Montana receives a whopping 87% of its imports from Canada.

Some other interesting trade partnerships stand out, like the Carolinas and Germany. Trade ties between Hawaii and Japan also make sense for historic reasons.

StateTop CountryTotal State Import (Millions USD)Share of Total State Imports
Alabama 🇲🇽 Mexico$4,16116.3%
Alaska🇰🇷 South Korea$83635.0%
Arizona🇲🇽 Mexico$8,97835.0%
Arkansas🇨🇳 China$3,16036.6%
California🇨🇳 China$130,29132.9%
Colorado🇨🇦 Canada$2,92824.3%
Connecticut🇨🇦 Canada$4,03122.4%
Delaware🇨🇭 Switzerland$1,92721.1%
District of Columbia🇨🇦 Canada$7413.7%
Florida🇨🇳 China$11,21214.7%
Georgia🇨🇳 China$20,19420.4%
Hawaii🇯🇵 Japan$29115.1%
Idaho🇨🇦 Canada$1,19521.7%
Illinois🇨🇳 China$48,32431.0%
Indiana🇮🇪 Ireland$11,55818.1%
Iowa🇨🇦 Canada$2,38726.6%
Kansas🇨🇳 China$2,06419.7%
Kentucky🇲🇽 Mexico$6,88212.5%
Louisiana🇷🇺 Russia$2,61112.6%
Maine🇨🇦 Canada$3,16766.6%
Maryland🇩🇪 Germany$3,99313.0%
Massachusetts🇨🇦 Canada$7,77922.2%
Michigan🇲🇽 Mexico$47,47340.9%
Minnesota🇨🇳 China$7,57726.9%
Mississippi🇨🇳 China$3,93824.9%
Missouri🇨🇦 Canada$4,50024.0%
Montana🇨🇦 Canada$3,44287.0%
Nebraska🇨🇦 Canada$87623.5%
Nevada🇨🇳 China$4,10831.8%
New Hampshire🇨🇦 Canada$1,39420.1%
New Jersey🇨🇳 China$14,30212.4%
New Mexico🇨🇳 China$1,49332.6%
New York🇨🇭 Switzerland$33,12621.5%
North Carolina🇩🇪 Germany$9,20815.1%
North Dakota🇨🇦 Canada$1,78162.3%
Ohio🇨🇦 Canada$10,62416.2%
Oklahoma🇨🇦 Canada$4,35540.2%
Oregon🇨🇦 Canada$2,95117.0%
Pennsylvania🇨🇳 China$13,47015.9%
Puerto Rico🇮🇪 Ireland$9,06242.7%
Rhode Island🇩🇪 Germany$1,52517.3%
South Carolina🇩🇪 Germany$6,22015.5%
South Dakota🇨🇦 Canada$42833.9%
Tennessee🇨🇳 China$20,30524.3%
Texas🇲🇽 Mexico$88,72635.8%
Utah🇲🇽 Mexico$4,29427.6%
Vermont🇨🇦 Canada$1,67763.5%
Virginia🇨🇳 China$6,56622.7%
Virgin Islands🇵🇹 Portugal$17427.7%
Washington🇨🇦 Canada$12,77226.1%
West Virginia🇨🇦 Canada$1,02535.2%
Wisconsin🇨🇳 China$5,55420.7%
Wyoming🇨🇦 Canada$69563.7%

However, one country in particular stands out on this map—China.

While the USMCA trade agreement has created an easy gateway for necessary goods and services to flow across North America, no country—not even the U.S.—can escape the need for mass imports from the world’s top exporter.

China and the U.S. have an imbalanced trade relationship, with China buying much fewer goods from the U.S. than the U.S. buys from them. In fact, China’s monthly trade surplus with the country sat at $31.8 billion as of May 2021.

Who are the States Exporting to?

After looking at the top import partners by state, let’s dive in to where the U.S. states are exporting the most.

Trading Partner of Every U.S. State

One thing that is noticeable is that China shows up much less on this map, further exemplifying the trade imbalance. In other words, while many states’ top import partner is China, they are not reciprocating as the country’s top export partner.

The only states that export their largest shares to China are:

  • Oregon – 38.1%
  • Alaska – 25.5%
  • Washington – 22.1%
  • Alabama – 18.1%
  • Louisiana – 18.1%

The majority are exporting to their North American neighbors. For example, North Dakota sends 84.6% of its exports just across the northern border.

StateTop CountryTotal State Export (Millions USD)Share of total State Exports
Alabama 🇨🇳 China$3,10218.1%
Alaska🇨🇳 China$1,17625.5%
Arizona🇲🇽 Mexico$3635.5%
Arkansas🇨🇦 Canada$1,14822.1%
California🇲🇽 Mexico$24,07815.4%
Colorado🇨🇦 Canada$1,27815.4%
Connecticut🇩🇪 Germany$2,18915.9%
Delaware🇨🇦 Canada$61915.8%
D.C.🇶🇦 Qatar$89932.4%
Florida🇧🇷 Brazil$3,5387.7%
Georgia🇨🇦 Canada$5,14613.3%
Hawaii🇦🇺 Australia$5115.8%
Idaho🇨🇦 Canada$1,18434.8%
Illinois🇨🇦 Canada$13,26124.8%
Indiana🇨🇦 Canada$11,08031.4%
Iowa🇨🇦 Canada$3,46027.4%
Kansas🇲🇽 Mexico$2,07820.0%
Kentucky🇨🇦 Canada$6,55026.5%
Louisiana🇨🇳 China$10,77918.1%
Maine🇨🇦 Canada$1,22952.8%
Maryland🇨🇦 Canada$1,58112.5%
Massachusetts🇨🇦 Canada$2,74611.0%
Michigan🇨🇦 Canada$17,34139.4%
Minnesota🇨🇦 Canada$4,82824.0%
Mississippi🇨🇦 Canada$2,08220.3%
Missouri🇨🇦 Canada$4,45334.9%
Montana🇨🇦 Canada$54437.9%
Nebraska🇲🇽 Mexico$1,63923.5%
Nevada🇨🇭 Switzerland$2,25621.8%
New Hampshire🇩🇪 Germany$75113.8%
New Jersey🇨🇦 Canada$7,22919.0%
New Mexico🇲🇽 Mexico$2,19759.5%
New York🇨🇦 Canada$13,77322.3%
North Carolina🇨🇦 Canada$5,88120.7%
North Dakota🇨🇦 Canada$4,38884.6%
Ohio🇨🇦 Canada$17,27338.4%
Oklahoma🇨🇦 Canada$1,45227.0%
Oregon🇨🇳 China$9,52238.1%
Pennsylvania🇨🇦 Canada$9,69925.9%
Puerto Rico🇳🇱 Netherlands$2,88917.2%
Rhode Island🇨🇦 Canada$41017.1%
South Carolina🇩🇪 Germany$4,08213.5%
South Dakota🇨🇦 Canada$52438.0%
Tennessee🇨🇦 Canada$5,81820.7%
Texas🇲🇽 Mexico$89,04631.9%
Utah🇬🇧 United Kingdom$8,90650.3%
Vermont🇨🇦 Canada$91838.3%
Virginia🇨🇦 Canada$2,71716.5%
Virgin Islands🇳🇱 Netherlands$9015.2%
Washington🇨🇳 China$9,12622.1%
West Virginia🇨🇦 Canada$1,28328.1%
Wisconsin🇨🇦 Canada$6,22630.4%
Wyoming🇨🇦 Canada$22519.3%

Trade Going Forward

The trade war that started during the tenure of former U.S. president Donald Trump is still ongoing and tariffs set by the U.S. are not expected to be lifted by president Joe Biden, as tensions have expanded beyond just trade issues.

These tariffs, however, have not helped to rectify the significant trade imbalance between the two countries. The states are still extremely reliant on imports from China, and it is not a reciprocal relationship.

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Money

Ranked: The Richest Veterans in America

There are over 18 million living veterans in the U.S., but how many are ultra wealthy? This visual ranks the richest veterans in America.

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Ranked: The Richest Veterans in America

The U.S is home to 724 billionaires, many of whom have taken on immense risks in the financial world. 16 of these wealthy individuals have also taken on the risks that come with serving in the U.S. military.

These veteran billionaires are worth a collective $81.4 billion and have served in posts ranging from Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) to infantrymen in the Second World War. This visual, using data from Forbes, ranks the richest living American veterans.

This visual categorizes the individuals by either the military branch or war served in depending on what was applicable or determinable.

I Want You for the U.S. Army

According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, there are around 18 million veterans in the U.S. Of these 18 million, less than 0.01% can claim the title of billionaire.

NameNet Worth (Billions, USD)Industry War / Unit Served
Donald Bren$15.3Real Estate Marine Corps
Edward Johnson III$10.3Finance & InvestmentsArmy
Ralph Lauren$7.1Fashion & RetailArmy
Richard Kinder$7.0EnergyVietnam War
Charles Dolan & family$6.1Media & EntertainmentWWII, Airforce 
Fred Smith$5.7Logistics Vietnam War, Marine Corps
Charles B. Johnson$4.9Finance & Investments Army
Ted Lerner & family$4.8Real Estate WWII
Julian Robertson Jr.$4.5Finance & Investments Navy
John Paul DeJoria$2.7Fashion & Retail Navy
H. Ross Perot Jr.$2.7Real Estate Airforce
Bob Parsons$2.2Technology Vietnam War, Marine Corps
David H. Murdock$2.1Food & BeverageWWII
S. Daniel Abraham$2.0Food & BeverageWWII, Army
Charlie Munger$2.0Finance & InvestmentsWWII, Army Air Corps
George Joseph$2.0Finance & InvestmentsWWII

Six of the above veteran billionaires served in WWII. They are some of the last surviving veterans of the historic war which was fought by 16 million Americans—today, only around 325,000 WWII veterans are still alive.

George Joseph, of Mercury Insurance Group, piloted a B17 Bomber plane in WWII, and completed around 50 missions. Warren Buffett’s business partner at Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger, served in the Army Air Corps in the early 1940s.

Richard Kinder (Kinder Morgan Inc.), Fred Smith (FedEx), and H. Ross Perot Jr. (Hillwood Investment Properties) each served in the Vietnam war.

One notable figure, Ralph Lauren, whose name is synonymous with his clothing products, served in the Army branch for two years in the early 1960s.

Taking on Financial Risk

Billionaire wealth continues to grow in America. Most of these veteran billionaires saw their net worths increase from 2020 to 2021, as, typically, wealth begets wealth. Here’s a look at the changes in net worth of the top five richest veterans who experienced increases:

  • Edward Johnson III: +$4.9 Billion
  • Ralph Lauren: +$1.4 Billion
  • Richard Kinder: +$1.8 Billion
  • Charles Dolan & Family: +$1.5 Billion
  • Fred Smith: +$3.0 Billion

The majority of these veteran billionaires are in the finance industry and some are tied to well-known companies, but they didn’t always have billions on hand to help them exponentially grow their fortunes.

David Murdock was a high school dropout, and after serving in WWII, had no money to his name. He took over a failing company called Dole, and eventually gained the moniker of ‘pineapple king’ after reviving the business.

S. Daniel Abraham, who was an infantryman in WWII, went on to found Thompson Medical. Their main product was Slimfast, which he later sold to Unilever for $2.3 billion in cash in the early 2000s.

Bob Parsons, who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, started out his professional career as a CPA. He later founded the enormous domain giant, Go Daddy. He has claimed that his time in the military helped him succeed in business.

Peace and Prosperity

We currently live in one of the most peaceful and prosperous times in history, with wars like WWII feeling to many like a story from the past — but for others these conflicts were defining moments for their generation.

While many veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life, on average pre-9/11 veterans have reported fewer difficulties compared to post-9/11 veterans, and some have even managed to reach the highest levels of financial success.

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