Every day, the public relies on a number of major institutions for services and safety. From banks and governments, to media and the military—these institutions play an important role in shaping life as we know it.
Yet, today’s interactive data visualization from Overflow Data shows that America’s confidence in institutions has drastically waned. The data relies on the General Social Survey (GSS) to provide a 40-year overview of how sentiment has changed with respect to 13 different institutions.
Select an institution from the drop-down menu below to see how confidence has changed over time
The Erosion of Confidence
Overall, confidence in most institutions has eroded. Americans find it especially hard to trust their government: the “great deal of confidence” metrics for Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch were low to begin with, and have declined further since 1975.
That said, the biggest overall drop belongs to the press, which saw 50% of surveyed Americans saying they have “hardly any confidence” in it in 2016. This is nearly a three-fold increase from 1975, when that number was just 19%. Of course, with the rise of fake news in more recent years, the erosion of confidence in media doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Here’s a look at the two extremes of sentiment regarding the studied institutions, showing how the opposite measures of “hardly any confidence” and a “great deal of confidence” have changed since 1975:
|🏦 Banks & Financial Institutions||Hardly any||10.9%||31.2%||+20.3 p.p.|
|Great deal||32.3%||14.1%||-18.2 p.p.|
|🗳️ Congress||Hardly any||26.2%||52.6%||+26.4 p.p.|
|Great deal||13.6%||5.9%||-7.7 p.p.|
|🏫 Education||Hardly any||13.0%||17.5%||+4.5 p.p.|
|Great deal||31.5%||25.6%||-5.9 p.p.|
|🏛️ Executive Branch||Hardly any||29.7%||42.4%||+12.7 p.p.|
|Great deal||13.4%||12.8%||-0.6 p.p.|
|🏬 Major Companies||Hardly any||22.9%||17.3%||-5.6 p.p.|
|Great deal||20.5%||18.3%||-2.2 p.p.|
|🏥 Medicine||Hardly any||17.8%||13.4%||-4.4 p.p.|
|Great deal||51.8%||50.6%||-1.2 p.p.|
|🎖️ Military||Hardly any||14.8%||7.6%||-7.2 p.p.|
|Great deal||36.3%||53.4%||+17.1 p.p.|
|💪 Organized Labor||Hardly any||31.5%||22.6%||-8.9 p.p.|
|Great deal||10.2%||13.9%||+3.7 p.p.|
|🙏 Religion||Hardly any||23.0%||26.4%||+3.4 p.p.|
|Great deal||25.8%||20.0%||-5.8 p.p.|
|📰 Press||Hardly any||19.0%||50.0%||+31 p.p.|
|Great deal||24.5%||7.6%||-16.9 p.p.|
|🥼 Scientific Community||Hardly any||7.4%||6.1%||-1.3 p.p.|
|Great deal||41.7%||42.1%||+0.4 p.p.|
|📺 Television||Hardly any||23.4%||43.1%||+19.7 p.p.|
|Great deal||18.4%||9.8%||-8.6 p.p.|
|⚖️ U.S. Supreme Court||Hardly any||19.2%||17.4%||-1.8 p.p.|
|Great deal||31.8%||26.3%||-5.5 p.p.|
Banks and financial institutions have also suffered a bad rep in the public eye. Their “great deal of confidence” metric has dropped sharply from 32.3% to 14.1% in four decades.
One major exception is the military, which emerges as the most trusted institution. Americans’ faith in the military has also shown the most improvement, with a 17.1 p.p increase in a “great deal of confidence” since 1975.
The Split Widens Further
While measuring public confidence in institutions can be subjective, it provides an understanding of where Americans want to see change and reform take place.
For more on how Americans perceive different institutions and the issues that affect them, see how the public is divided based on political affiliation.
Visualizing the True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest
Maps can distort the size and shape of countries. This visualization puts the true size of land masses together from biggest to smallest.
The True Size of Land Masses from Largest to Smallest
Is Greenland the size of the entire African continent?
But looking at a map based on the Mercator projection, you would think so.
Today’s infographic comes from the design studio Art.Lebedev and shows the true size of the world’s land masses in order from largest to smallest using data from NASA and Google.
Check out the actual shape and size of each land mass without any distortions.
Distorting Reality: Mercator Misconceptions
Maps can deceive your eyes but they are still powerful tools for specific purposes. In 1569, the legendary cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a new map based on a cylindrical projection of sections of the Earth. These types of maps were suited for nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome.
Despite the map’s nautical utility, the Mercator projection has an unwanted downside. The map type increases the sizes of land masses close to the poles (such as in North America, Europe, or North Asia) as a side effect. As a result, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s surface, when in reality these nations only occupy 5%.
“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many.” – Phaedrus
This collection of images above represents the world’s land masses in their correct proportions. Measurements are based on Google Maps 2016 and NASA Earth Observatory maps, with calculations based on the WGS84 reference ellipsoid, or more simply, a specific model of the Earth’s shape in two dimensions.
We take for granted Google Maps and satellite imaging. Making these accurate representations is no small task – the designers went through six steps and many different iterations of the graphic.
Countries are arranged by descending size and shown without external or dependent territories. For example, the total area for the contiguous United States shown does not include Hawaii, Alaska, or overseas territories.
Top 10 Largest Land Masses
Although Mercator maps distort the size of land masses in the Northern Hemisphere, many of these countries still cover massive territories.
|United States (contiguous)||7,654,643|
The top 10 land masses by size account for 55% of the Earth’s total land. The remainder is split by the world’s 195 or so other countries.
Top 10 Smallest Land Masses
Here are the 10 tiniest jurisdictions highlighted on the map:
While the Earth’s land surface has been claimed by many authorities, the actual impact of human activity is less than one would think.
Human Impact: Humbled by Nature
Political borders have claimed virtually every piece of land available. Despite this, only 20% of land on the planet has been visibly impacted by human activity, and only 15% of Earth’s land surface is formally under protection.
The remaining 80% of the land hosts natural ecosystems that help to purify air and water, recycle nutrients, enhance soil fertility, pollinate plants, and break down waste products. The value of maintaining these services to the human economy is worth trillions of U.S. dollars each year.
While some nations are not as big as they look on the map, every piece of land counts.
11 Cognitive Biases That Influence Political Outcomes
Humans are hardwired to make mental mistakes called cognitive biases. Here are common biases that can shape political opinion, and even elections.
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?
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:
|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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