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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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Maps

Charted: Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Forces by Country

In 2023, the UN Peacekeeping Forces, under the purview of the Security Council, comprised of more than 60,000 personnel from 118 countries.

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A cropped chart showing the funding and personnel contributors to UN Peacekeeping forces, and location of current missions.

Charted: Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Forces by Country

An earlier version of this graphic was posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

With their sky blue helmets, berets, and badges, the UN Peacekeeping forces are meant to be a symbol of international cooperation in conflict zones around the world.

They’re composed entirely from voluntary contributions from UN Member States—and include police and civilian roles along with military personnel.

The visualization by creator Preyash Shah serves as a primer on the UN Peacekeeping forces. It shows which countries are the biggest personnel contributors, which of them are top funders, and also lists the current ongoing peacekeeping operations. Data for this chart comes from the UN Peacekeeping archives.

Countries by Troop Contributions to UN Peacekeeping (2023)

From South Asia, a trio of countries—Nepal, Bangladesh, and India—are each contributing more than 6,000 personnel to the UN peacekeepers.

A majority of these representatives are soldiers, heavily involved in the four active peacekeeping missions in Africa.

RankCountryPersonnel
1🇳🇵 Nepal6,247
2🇧🇩 Bangladesh6,197
3🇮🇳 India6,073
4🇷🇼 Rwanda5,919
5🇵🇰 Pakistan4,164
6🇮🇩 Indonesia2,717
7🇬🇭 Ghana2,664
8🇨🇳 China2,267
9🇪🇬 Egypt1,739
10🇲🇦 Morocco1,715
11🇹🇿 Tanzania1,544
12🇪🇹 Ethiopia1,509
13🇸🇳 Senegal1,194
14🇿🇦 South Africa1,133
15🇨🇲 Cameroon1,103
16🇺🇾 Uruguay1,016
17🇿🇲 Zambia996
18🇹🇳 Tunisia988
19🇲🇳 Mongolia898
20🇮🇹 Italy872
21🇲🇾 Malaysia865
22🇲🇼 Malawi802
23🇲🇷 Mauritania787
24🇧🇮 Burundi769
25🇰🇭 Cambodia734
26🇪🇸 Spain688
27🇺🇬 Uganda654
28🇫🇷 France587
29🇱🇰 Sri Lanka561
30🇰🇷 South Korea545
31🇮🇪 Ireland458
32🇰🇪 Kenya456
33🇳🇬 Nigeria421
34🇹🇬 Togo408
35🇩🇪 Germany383
36🇯🇴 Jordan357
37🇫🇯 Fiji339
38🇧🇯 Benin319
39🇦🇷 Argentina292
40🇹🇭 Thailand289
41🇬🇧 UK280
42🇻🇳 Viet Nam274
43🇷🇸 Serbia271
44🇵🇪 Peru262
45🇸🇰 Slovakia244
46🇵🇹 Portugal239
47🇩🇯 Djibouti226
48🇧🇹 Bhutan219
49🇬🇹 Guatemala218
50🇫🇮 Finland204
51🇵🇱 Poland202
52🇨🇬 Congo189
53🇸🇻 El Salvador187
54🇦🇹 Austria177
55🇱🇷 Liberia161
56🇧🇫 Burkina Faso156
57🇹🇷 Turkiye154
58🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire132
59🇬🇷 Greece103
60🇳🇪 Niger88
61🇷🇺 Russia88
62🇬🇲 Gambia81
63🇧🇷 Brazil79
64🇬🇳 Guinea74
65🇵🇾 Paraguay59
66🇳🇴 Norway51
67🇷🇴 Romania49
68🇿🇼 Zimbabwe49
69🇨🇦 Canada47
70🇭🇺 Hungary38
71🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina34
72🇦🇲 Armenia33
73🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam29
74🇸🇪 Sweden29
75🇲🇱 Mali28
76🇧🇴 Bolivia27
77🇺🇸 U.S.27
78🇦🇺 Australia26
79🇸🇱 Sierra Leone26
80🇵🇭 Philippines21
81🇨🇭 Switzerland19
82🇨🇿 Czech Republic18
83🇰🇿 Kazakhstan18
84🇲🇽 Mexico18
85🇭🇳 Honduras17
86🇨🇱 Chile15
87🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan15
88🇹🇩 Chad14
89🇭🇷 Croatia13
90🇳🇱 Netherlands13
91🇪🇨 Ecuador11
92🇩🇴 Dominican Republic10
93🇳🇦 Namibia10
94🇲🇩 Moldova10
95🇲🇹 Malta9
96🇩🇰 Denmark8
97🇳🇿 New Zealand8
98🇸🇮 Slovenia7
99🇪🇪 Estonia6
100🇲🇪 Montenegro6
101🇨🇴 Colombia5
102🇲🇬 Madagascar5
103🇦🇱 Albania4
104🇯🇵 Japan4
105🇱🇻 Latvia4
106🇧🇪 Belgium3
107🇩🇿 Algeria2
108🇦🇴 Angola2
109🇦🇿 Azerbaijan2
110🇧🇼 Botswana2
111🇨🇾 Cyprus2
112🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea2
113🇹🇱 Timor-Leste2
114🇱🇹 Lithuania1
115🇲🇰 North Macedonia1
116🇶🇦 Qatar1
117🇸🇹 Sao Tome & Principe1
118🇹🇯 Tajikistan1
N/A🌐 World66,839

Source: Troop & Police Contributors, United Nations Peacekeeping.

However, these three countries—and the others in the top 15—are outliers when looking at overall troop contributions.

Of the 118 countries currently volunteering forces to the UN, 103 of them have fewer than 1,000 UN Peacekeepers.

The U.S. for example currently has only 27 personnel in the peacekeepers, as of November 2023. Of them, 21 are staff officers, four are “experts on mission,” and two are police; none are troops.

Other countries that have zero “boots on the ground” include: Canada, Japan, and Australia.

Countries by Financial Contributions to UN Peacekeeping (2021)

While all UN member states are mandated to contribute to the peacekeeping budget, the share of financial contributions is similarly unevenly distributed.

Most of the world’s largest economies are also the top funders to the UN peacekeeping forces.

For the financial year 2020–2021, the U.S. contributed nearly $2 billion to the UN peacekeepers, followed by China ($1 billion), Japan ($563 million), Germany ($401 million) and the UK ($381 million).

RankCountryRegionContributionEstimated Value
(USD Millions)
1🇺🇸 U.S.North America27.89%$1,835
2🇨🇳 ChinaAsia15.21%$1,000
3🇯🇵 JapanAsia8.56%$563
4🇩🇪 GermanyEurope6.09%$401
5🇬🇧 UKEurope5.79%$381
6🇫🇷 FranceEurope5.61%$369
7🇮🇹 ItalyEurope3.30%$217
8🇷🇺 RussiaAsia3.04%$200
9🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America2.73%$180
10🇰🇷 South KoreaAsia2.26%$149
N/A🌐 RoWN/A19.52%$1,284
N/ATotalN/A100%$6,579

Source: How We are Funded, United Nations Peacekeeping.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council carry a greater financial responsibility to the peacekeeping budget, in accordance with their security council privileges.

Ranked: Current UN Peacekeeping Missions by Personnel (2023)

As of November, 2023, there are 11 active UN peacekeeping missions in operation. There have been more than 60 peacekeeping operations since 1948; the first one was established in Palestine to oversee the truce between Arab and Jewish communities.

RankLocationEstablishedUNPK Personnel
1🇨🇫 Central African Republic201418,448
2🇸🇸 South Sudan201118,412
3🇨🇩 DRC201017,971
4🇱🇧 Lebanon197810,385
5🇸🇩 Sudan &
🇸🇸 South Sudan
20113,388
6🇸🇾 Syria19741,331
7🇨🇾 Cyprus19641,017
8🇪🇭 Western Sahara1991468
9🇮🇱 Israel &
🇵🇸 Palestine
1948375
10🇽🇰 Kosovo1999353
11🇮🇳 India &
🇵🇰 Pakistan
1949104

Source: Where We Operate, United Nations Peacekeeping.

A key tenant of the missions is to protect civilians and human rights, and several of them have failed in this regard, including the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the decade of Balkan civil wars.

And peacekeepers themselves have also garnered less than stellar reputations, after perpetrating sexual abuse in the Central African Republic and Congo, and causing a cholera epidemic in Haiti in 2010.

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