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11 Cognitive Biases That Influence Political Outcomes

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cognitive bias in politics

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

How To Spot Fake News

With misinformation all over the web, how do you discern fake news from real? Here are the characteristics of fake news and what to look for.

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Types of Fake News - 1200px

How To Spot Fake News

“Fake news” used to be a relatively uncommon problem, but over the last decade, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing consumption of news and articles has caused misinformation to run wild.

Far from a new concept, misinformation and cherry-picked stories have been used throughout history as a form of propaganda or information warfare. However, the rise of social media as a hub for sharing articles has spread “fake news”—false or misleading information presented as legitimate news—all over the internet.

Fueled further by increasing polarization, as well as the use of the term by former U.S. President Donald Trump to also refer to negative coverage (whether legitimate or misinformed), it seems more difficult than ever to separate trustworthy from misleading sources.

With this in mind, we combined guidance from non-profit journalism project First Draft News and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to create this guide for understanding “fake news” and how to spot it.

The Different Types of “Fake News”

In order to spot fake news, you have to know the many forms misinformation can take.

Not all fake news is created equal, or even with the intent to deceive. Some start as opinions or jokes that become misunderstood, twisted over time, and eventually turn into misinformation. Others begin with the sole purpose of deception.

Online Misinformation From Least Intentional to Most

  • Satire/Parody
    Articles or videos created to mock or laugh at an issue. If created without being an obvious parody, these types of articles can still fool readers and be shared as “real.”
  • False Connection
    Stories with headlines, visuals, and captions that don’t support the content. Sometimes the cause is an honest mistake or poor journalism, but other times the false connections are deliberate to draw more attention.
  • Misleading Content
    Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual, especially one not involved in the story. This can be caused by poor journalism or political influence, but is also caused by opinions being shared as news and the increasingly blurring line between the two.
  • False Context
    Genuine content that is shared with false contextual information, such as an incorrect date or a misattributed quote. This type of misinformation can still appear on news sites with poor fact-checking or opinion-based reporting, but is clearly driven by an agenda with an attempt to influence.
  • Imposter Content
    When genuine sources are impersonated in order to deceive the audience. Though this type of misinformation is used in parody, it is also used for profit and propaganda purposes, such as by sites disguised to look like news organizations or using fake credentials.
  • Manipulated Content
    The deliberate manipulation of information, such as digitally altering an image or making up quotes. This type of misinformation is easily proven fake with some research, but can spread too far before it is fact-checked.
  • Fabricated Content
    Newly created false content designed to deceive and do harm. These include deepfake videos and sites posing as legitimate news organizations.

Despite many types of misinformation appearing to be obvious at a glance, it’s harder to discern when browsing online. In a 2019 global survey on social media by Ipsos, 44% of people admitted to being duped by fake news at least once, while others may have been duped unwittingly.

How To Tell If An Article is “Fake News”

With many types of misinformation to contend with, and trust in media organizations falling in the U.S. and around the world, it might seem like you’re surrounded by “fake news,” but there are a few things you can check to be sure.

  • The Source
    Investigate the site to make sure it’s legitimate, and check its mission and its contact info to understand if it’s news, satire, or opinion.
  • The URL
    Be wary of unusual top-level domain names, like “.com.co” that are designed to appear legitimate, such as ABCnews.com.co.
  • The Text
    Does the article have spelling errors or dramatic punctuation? This can be an easy find for simple fabricated content, as most reputable sources have high proofreading and grammatical standards.
  • The Information
    Read past click-baity headlines, note who is (or isn’t) quoted, and verify the information on other sites. This is also a good way to separate opinion pieces from news.
  • The Author
    Check the author’s bio and do a quick search on them. Are they credible to write about their story? Are they real?
  • Supporting Sources
    Click on the supporting links, and perform reverse searches on images. Do they actually support the story, or are they irrelevant (or worse, manipulated).
  • The Date
    Sometimes older news stories are shared again and gain traction because of current events, but that doesn’t mean they’re relevant or accurate.
  • Your Bias
    Especially with the rise of opinionated journalism and websites profiting from polarization, consider the intended audience for this story and if your own beliefs could affect your judgement.
  • The Experts
    If a story feels flimsy, or doesn’t seem to be properly cited, consider asking an expert in the field or consulting a fact-checking site.

More than anything, consider that outrageous misinformation has an easier time spreading on the internet than boring real news. An MIT study found that false stories on Twitter were 70% more likely to get retweeted than accurate news.

But armed with knowledge about what “fake news” looks like, and with increased pressure on news organizations, the tide can be turned back in the favor of accurate news.

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Politics

Visualizing the UK and EU Trade Relationship

The UK and the EU have recently laid out new terms for their relationship. So how important is the UK’s trade with the EU?

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uk trade with eu

Visualizing the UK and EU Trade Relationship

With Brexit solidified and a new trade deal having been struck between the UK and the EU, it appears that a sense of normalcy has returned to the European continent.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the two entities came into effect on January 1st, 2021, corresponding with the UK officially leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union on the same day. The new deal will help the status quo of trade continue, but how important is trade between the EU and the UK?

This visualization, using data from the British House of Commons’ Statistics on UK-EU Trade Briefing Paper, reveals the significance of trade between the UK and EU member states.

Who Does the UK Trade With in the EU?

The EU is the UK’s biggest global trading partner, representing 47% of the country’s total trade.

To break it down further, the EU is the buyer of 42.6% of the UK’s total exports, while also being the source of 51.8% of their total imports. Here’s a closer look at exports and imports by country.

Country % of UK's Exports to the EU% of UK Imports from the EU
🇩🇪 Germany18.9%20.9%
🇳🇱 Netherlands14.2%13.8%
🇫🇷 France13.7%12.1%
🇮🇪 Ireland13.6%8.0%
🇮🇹 Italy6.9%6.8%
🇪🇸 Spain6.8%8.6%
🇧🇪 Belgium6.1%7.7%
🇸🇪 Sweden3.4%3.3%
🇵🇱 Poland2.6%3.9%
🇩🇰 Denmark2.2%2.2%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg1.8%1.0%
🇦🇹 Austria1.1%1.4%
🇨🇿 Czech Repbulic1.1%1.8%
🇫🇮 Finland 1.1%0.8%
🇵🇹 Portugal1.1%1.5%
🇬🇷 Greece0.9%1.0%
🇷🇴 Romania0.9%1.1%
🇭🇺 Hungary0.7%1.3%
🇲🇹 Malta0.7%0.2%
🇨🇾 Cyprus0.6%0.3%
🇸🇰 Slovakia0.5%0.9%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria0.3%0.4%
🇱🇹 Lithuania0.3%0.4%
🇱🇻 Latvia 0.2%0.3%
🇸🇮 Slovenia0.2%0.1%
🇭🇷 Croatia0.1%0.2%
🇪🇪 Estonia0.1%0.1%
🇪🇺 Total EU 28100%100%

The UK’s biggest trading partners within the EU are Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. Germany comes in at number one, making up nearly 21% of the UK’s imports and receiving almost 19% of the country’s exports.

Here’s a breakdown of the trade balances between the UK and the individual EU member states.

uk trade with eu

What’s in the Bag?

In any trade relationship, it’s also worth examining what types of products and services are switching hands.

Top Imports

The UK’s top three goods imports from the EU (in terms of percentage of total imports) are:

  • Motor vehicles (18%)
  • Pharmaceuticals (7%)
  • Electric machinery and appliances (4%)

Without the new agreement, goods would face tariffs based on the World Trade Organization’s standards. For example, motor vehicles, would have an average tariff of 10% imposed on them, without the provisions of the agreement.

The UK’s top three service imports from the EU are:

  • Travel (33%)
  • Business services (27%)
  • Transportation (18%)

Looking at services, the main import from the EU is travel, followed closely by business services and transportation. Travel makes the top three, as many countries in the EU make attractive vacation spots for UK citizens.

Top Exports

The UK’s top three goods exports to the EU (in terms of percentage of total exports to the EU) are:

  • Petroleum and petroleum products (12%)
  • Motor vehicles (10%)
  • Transport equipment (6%)

In terms of exports, petroleum is the UK’s largest export to the EU, representing 68% of the country’s total petroleum exports.

The UK’s top three service exports to the EU are:

  • Business services (33%)
  • Financial services (21%)
  • Travel (14%)

The main service export is business services, such as accounting, legal, advertising, R&D, engineering, and so on. Travel to the UK is a significant revenue generator as London is one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

EU vs. Global Trade

The UK’s relationship with other countries has remained steady. China is one of the country’s most important export destinations, growing 7% per year from 2010-2019.

At the same time, the UK’s exports to the United States have grown just over 4% per year over the same period, continuing to increase at a similar rate up to 2030.

uk trade with eu

While the UK currently has a £79 billion ($108 billion) trade deficit with the EU, they have a surplus of £49 billion ($67 billion) with non-EU countries. Additionally, the share of the UK’s exports going to the EU has been consistently falling over the last number of years. Foreign direct investment flows between the two entities have also been drastically reduced.

However, the UK and EU trade relationship is still highly intertwined and significant. Not only are the two connected through intangible flows but physically as well via pipelines, transport highways, and cables. In a typical year, 210 million passengers and 230 million tonnes of cargo are transported between the two entities.

The TCA will help to regulate these flows and continue a sense of status quo, however, it’s worth noting that if EU regulations are not met, tariffs could be imposed.

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently determined risk and resilience factors for different UK industries based on the agreement. The report found that the food & agriculture, automotive, and financial services industries are most at risk, due to interconnected supply chains and the risk of tariffs being imposed. The life sciences and tech industries stand to do the best.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Overall, Brexit has had significant ramifications for all nations involved. Ireland, for example, is now geographically cut off from the EU, creating potential obstacles for both the movement of people and goods.

Now, after years of discussions, the UK and the EU have finally agreed to the terms for their new relationship, with a focus on sustainable trade, citizens’ security, and governance for long-standing cooperation, in order to guarantee a level playing field. The TCA has helped ease the transition, and while they’re no longer in a union, the UK and the EU have created a strong base for trade to continue normally.

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