Friday, September 17, 2010

Why Do Voters Believe Obvious Lies?

Photo nicked from the Huffington Post.
Lee Dye of ABC News writes a very interesting article in yesterday's Technology News. He asks the question: Why Do Voters Believe Obvious Lies, Like That Barack Obama Is Muslim or That John McCain is Senile?. He suggests that while we regard ourselves as the "smartest animals on the planet", scientists are asking why we also "believe in nonsense", and that "lies and smears can spread at warp speed". A key piece in the article for me about American politics is as follows:

It's curious that we elect those who must guide our collective destinies not on the basis of who we like, or who we trust, but who we dislike the least. No wonder smear campaigns often work, because so many are so willing to believe the worst about someone, even in the total absence of evidence. It's a daunting challenge for any scientist to explain why.

The old saying of "throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick" applies to politics worldwide. Of course, many politicians invite this upon themselves. Negative campaigning is popular in America, not so much in Europe - but it is never far away. With Fine Gael and Labour publicly announcing that they are on Election footing recently, I feel that the inevitable upcoming election could be the dirtiest one we've ever had (on all sides - though still mild compared to America). Certainly these two parties, independents, and others will do well on the "dislike the least" principle. It should make for good sport, but any taint of association with bankers, builders, or developers by politicians will mean certain loss their seats. It should not be big challenge for FG or Labour to paint a negative picture of Fiann Fail and the Greens - expect a lot of this in the election (and vice versa no doubt). I love general elections and the next one should make for a good spectator sport. The ABC News article should be a "must read" for all political parties here.

Get this - in the ABC News article above, Dye reports on four experiments at the University of Arizona - three before the last presidential election, and one after. The experiments found that "voters are more likely to believe an obvious falsehood about a candidate if that candidate is perceived as different from themselves". Unsurprisingly, voters were much more likely to believe lies if they are supporting a different candidate. Negative information on a candidate had far more impact on voters than positive information, according to the study.

I feel an Election coming within six months (with my tiny voice I have already called for one this week) - I can't wait for the fun to begin!

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