Average voter is unable to accurately assess politicians, new research shows

Dec 24, 2012

(Phys.org)—A new study has thrown doubt on the ability of the average voter to make an accurate judgement of the performance of their politicians, showing that voter biases appear to be deep-seated and broad.

Prior research has suggested that random events such as or hurricanes decrease the votes received by incumbent politicians, regardless of their actual in office. Similarly, voters appear to give undue weight to recent economic performance and are easily swayed by rhetoric.

In a series of novel experiments, researchers Gregory A. Huber (Yale), Seth J. Hill (University of California, San Diego), and Gabriel S. Lenz (University of California, Berkeley) found that voters are susceptible to these biases even when given to behave otherwise and when the information necessary to avoid these was readily available.

This in turn makes voters vulnerable to being manipulated by politicians. The findings suggest that incumbents who associate themselves with good news for which they bear no responsibility, implement policies that generate good news close to elections at the expense of overall voter welfare, and use rhetoric that encourages people to focus on how they feel in the here and now, ignoring the long-term, could benefit at the ballot box.

In their study, "Source of Bias in Retrospective Decision Making: on Voters' Limitation in Controlling Incumbents," reported in the latest edition of the (APSR) published by Cambridge University Press, Huber, Hill and Lenz asked around 4000 citizens to play a series of games assessing the performance of fictional politicians. As they played, they experienced changes in their earnings. The experiments also manipulated whether they won or lost in a lottery, when they learned about an upcoming election, and the rhetoric surrounding the election.

The results of the games showed that even though the players' earnings were the only accurate information they had about their incumbent politician's performance, the other manipulations affected the players. They tended to punish or reward the incumbent based on whether or not they had won or lost a lottery, and gave greater weight to earnings closer to the election when they learned about the election closer to it or after certain rhetorical statements. They persisted in this irrational behavior even when it was made clear to them that their fictional incumbent had had nothing to do with the lottery and that events closer to the election were no more informative of the incumbent's true performance than events further from the election.

Huber said: "Our results suggest severe limitations in humans' ability to accurately and impartially judge the performance of politicians. This is a worrisome finding for democratic accountability because it creates a breeding ground for to manipulate their electorate."

"The findings also raise a warning about the adequacy of civic education programs and media coverage of elections to help citizens to accurately judge the performance of their representatives. Understanding how to improve voter decision-making may have important implications for democracy."

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omatwankr
2.8 / 5 (15) Dec 24, 2012
shhhh, its a secret
cantdrive85
2.8 / 5 (28) Dec 24, 2012
This is precisely why OBAMA! is in the White House. And GWB before him, and Clinton before him....

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Winston Churchill
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (21) Dec 24, 2012
There used to be a press corps that was dedicated to facts.
Now, they are mostly dedicated to an ideology.
"esults suggest severe limitations in humans' ability to accurately and impartially judge the performance of politicians."

Tea party members didn't have much trouble assessing the performance of politicians at town hall meetings in 2009.

When voters have the correct perspective on the purpose and limits of the govt, I suspect they will know all they need to make a proper assessment.
jdbertron
1 / 5 (2) Dec 24, 2012
Maybe if the press actually spent time dissecting issues instead of replaying sound bites things would be different. Essentially this research is attempting to prove that voters in 1789, 1801 and 1829 and every election ever since couldn't discern one politician from another.
ryggesogn2
2.9 / 5 (25) Dec 24, 2012
For all you who believe in restricting campaign contributions consider this instead.
1. Repeal the 17th amendment. Each state's legislature would appoint their senators. Senators would be more likely to be concerned about their states and voters would need to be more involved with their state legislators. Campaign donations would then be directed more to state legislators than senator, diluting the contributions and empowering states and the voters in each state.
2. Expand the House so each congressman represents ~50k people. This would increase the size of the House to 6213 congressmen. Diluting contributions to each member of congress, significantly, and increasing each citizens representation in Congress.
3. The electoral college would change slightly. Larger states would loose a small percentage of influence and smaller states would gain slightly. CA would loose 15% while WY influence would increase 60%.
This would distribute power back to the states and to the people.
chromosome2
2 / 5 (8) Dec 24, 2012
The argument against direct democracy usually goes something along the lines of preventing the "tyranny of the majority", as if the alternative is no tyranny at all. The alternative is the tyranny of the few. We have direct democracy now, in many aspects of our lives. We have the infrastructure. What we need is a way to replace our senile politicians with it. Republics are great when you only have primitive technology. It's time for a democracy.
FrankHerbert
2.1 / 5 (14) Dec 24, 2012
2. Expand the House so each congressman represents ~50k people. This would increase the size of the House to 6213 congressmen. Diluting contributions to each member of congress, significantly, and increasing each citizens representation in Congress.


Holy shit. I... I... don't know what to say.

We agree. I'm flabbergasted. I must say I'm surprised you aren't conflating increasing the quality of governance with increasing the size of government. If you can get this, there is hope yet. I've argued this with liberals that won't support it because even they think it would increase the size of government too much.

To anyone that doesn't understand, check out: http://thirty-thousand.org/
Kron
3 / 5 (19) Dec 24, 2012
Representative democracy is not a democratic system of governance, it is a democratically instated governance system. The role of the public is limited to electing an official whos subsequent duty is authoritative control over the populace. Once the representative is selected the democracy ends until the next election.

The democracy ends as soon as the representative is elected. It is false to label such a system a democracy. It is only the lead up to governance that involves the public. Once the governing officials are in place, the power is out of the publics hands.

So the representative democracy is not a democratic form of government, but a democratic form of official appointment.

Once the official is elected, the democratic system is gone. The governance at that point is handled by the leader appointed. Same as any other 'dictatorship'. The one advantage of representative democracy is that at the end of each term, the public gets to vote on whether to keep their 'dictator'.
jimbo92107
3.4 / 5 (5) Dec 24, 2012
Hey, that's why we have a dedicated army of television journalists, to help us tell the honest politicians from the liars.

/megasnark
Lino235
2.3 / 5 (15) Dec 24, 2012
"They persisted in this irrational behavior even when it was made clear to them that their fictional incumbent had had nothing to do with the lottery and that events closer to the election were no more informative of the incumbent's true performance than events further from the election."

This describes the typical Democratic voter: irrational. They prefer "la-la land."
ryggesogn2
2.2 / 5 (17) Dec 24, 2012
It's time for a democracy.

Then the majority can live of the minority, for a while.
Wait, that's what we have now.
~50% pay no federal income tax and a small minority pays it all.
What happens when the small minority 'shrugs' and decides to join the majority and live of of the wealth of the minority?
ValeriaT
1.3 / 5 (9) Dec 24, 2012
The contemporary "democracy" is very different from democracy in its nascent state. For example, the ancient Greeks employed so-called "ostracism" in their elections. The most popular guy won the position and the least popular guy was booted out of town. The voting law is biased towards politicians, as it doesn't enable the voters to remove votes, only to add. The consequences are undeniable. In our country some influential people already realized it.
antonima
not rated yet Dec 24, 2012
Ha, ancient kingdoms and dynasties were often overthrown after natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. . . I hope that humanity has become a more intelligent enterprise, but this does not seem to be the case according to the study.

In this day and age, how does one know who to believe? Beliefs stem from irrational, subconscious assumptions and everyone's opinion is biased by their history. Thus it is impossible to believe anyone and assume that there will be no consequences. For the average voter this is frustrating to the point that there is no point in politics other than to gratify their instinctive hunches. Perhaps an oligarchy would be a superior form of government..
Kron
2.7 / 5 (14) Dec 25, 2012
Anacyclosis. Monarchy (with its evil side: Tyranny).. Aristocracy (with its evil side: Oligarchy).. Democracy (with its evil side: Ochlocracy)..

Perhaps an oligarchy would be a superior form of government.

If you mean aristocracy (rule by the elite), I'd agree. If the elites were in it for themselves, and didn't care about the rest of the population it would be called an oligarchy. An oligarchy is a corrupt aristocracy.

This representative system we call a democracy is an aristocracy. When is the last time that someone making $30,000/year was elected head of state? The reps are always upper/elite class.
bliskater
1 / 5 (1) Dec 25, 2012
The argument against direct democracy usually goes something along the lines of preventing the "tyranny of the majority", as if the alternative is no tyranny at all. The alternative is the tyranny of the few. We have direct democracy now, in many aspects of our lives. We have the infrastructure. What we need is a way to replace our senile politicians with it. Republics are great when you only have primitive technology. It's time for a democracy.


This assumes an educated and understanding public. This is not the case, since the middle of the last century just the opposite has been more and more prevalent. If the U.S. were to become a true popular democracy it wouldn't be so very long.
Shootist
1.8 / 5 (10) Dec 25, 2012
shhhh, its a secret


no, it isn't. It's just better than philosopher-kings and strongman rule.
ScreenWorks
4.5 / 5 (8) Dec 25, 2012
This is precisely why OBAMA! is in the White House. And GWB before him, and Clinton before him....


Oh, really? You think maybe half the people just didn't feel like voting for an out of touch, off-shore account holding elitist with no integrity? You are precisely why Obama won. *Sarcasm
Shinobiwan Kenobi
1.3 / 5 (12) Dec 26, 2012
The butt-hurt is strong beneath this article.
Please keep up the derptacular whinefest. <3 <3 =^-^=
jscroft
1.8 / 5 (10) Dec 26, 2012
Why not simply follow the Constitution as written, and leverage its built-in change-control system where necessary? Oh, never mind.
BSD
2.6 / 5 (15) Dec 26, 2012
Conservative political parties thrive on apathy and ignorance of the average voter. Add to that a willingness for stupidity and conservatives will get in every time. I our case we have the Liberal Party in Australia headed up by a wanker called Tony Abbott, he looks likely to be our next Prime Minister. Perish the thought.

Can someone from the US please explain why the poor insist on voting for the Republicans when all they represent are the wealthy few?
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (18) Dec 26, 2012
the poor insist on voting for the Republicans

The poor voted for Obama's welfare state as planned. If they didn't vote, someone voted for them.
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (19) Dec 26, 2012
A smart 'poor' voter should vote for conservatives if the don't want to be poor or dependent upon the state.
When were you ever hired by a poor person?
BSD
2.9 / 5 (17) Dec 26, 2012
A smart 'poor' voter should vote for conservatives if the don't want to be poor or dependent upon the state.

Well that worked well didn't it? People were worse off after Dubya left the economy in a mess through starting two wars and deregulating the financial markets allowing greed to bring the US economy to it's knees.
FrankHerbert
2.3 / 5 (12) Dec 26, 2012
A smart 'poor' voter should vote for conservatives if the don't want to be poor or dependent upon the state.

When were you ever hired by a poor person?


I suppose you are referring to 'job creators'? Since the consumers are the real job creators, I'd say most people at one point or another are 'hired' by the poor (no quotes required) and middle class.
OdinsAcolyte
2.3 / 5 (9) Dec 26, 2012
Average implies an I.Q. of 100...or less. "You can fool all of the people some of the time..."
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (15) Dec 26, 2012
Since the consumers are the real job creators

Who creates the supply for the consumers and how do they do it?

deregulating the financial markets

What deregulation?
Freddie and Fannie are govt sponsored enterprises and the FDIC regulates banks with the community reinvestment act, just one of hundreds of regulations that control the banks.
FrankHerbert
2.3 / 5 (9) Dec 26, 2012
Who creates the supply for the consumers and how do they do it?

The consumers create the supply of capital with which jobs are created. The consumers are the job creators. The entrepreneurial class are largely leeches on the labor of others.
Kitanne
3 / 5 (4) Dec 27, 2012
This study is interesting. It is suggestive. It is indicative. But before it can be applied to real life, it must be repeated, repeated, peer reviewed, other bases for similar studies must be determined. This is far from conclusive, far from either an indictment or a celebration of constitutional representative democracy anywhere. It should be, at most, a heads up to those who shape our democracy, including educators, journalists, political parties, and all voters themselves to examine the effect they exercise on our democracy. It is also a classic example of needing to delineate between the brain having an idea and an idea having the brain. Better voter education, better, objective journalism, a greater focus on the effect of the political process as a whole on our lives seems to be in order. An emphasis on developing logic and objectivity in the making of our political choices would be most helpful.
Claudius
1.7 / 5 (11) Dec 27, 2012
"If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed."

- Mark Twain.

Government thrives on the populace being mis-informed and disconnected. The Media's responsibility in this is to ensure that the government thrives and the populace goes on believing they live in a democracy. Pretty neat arrangement. For them.
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (11) Dec 27, 2012
Who creates the supply for the consumers and how do they do it?

The consumers create the supply of capital with which jobs are created. The consumers are the job creators. The entrepreneurial class are largely leeches on the labor of others.


How exactly does one consume if they have no job with which to earn the currency of exchange to provide to the leeches?
Noumenon
1.8 / 5 (15) Dec 27, 2012
Who creates the supply for the consumers and how do they do it?

The consumers create the supply of capital with which jobs are created. The consumers are the job creators. The entrepreneurial class are largely leeches on the labor of others.


While it's not possible to create jobs without consumer demand, it is not possible to create consumer demand without entrepreneurship,... innovation and the pursuit of profit in a free market.

Whichever is logically the genesis of the other deserver the moniker 'Creator'.

The consumer class are passive in that they merely Sustain jobs, while the entrepreneurial class are active in that they Create consumer demand to begin with, and thus are the job Creators.

Liberals have this 'chicken or egg' argument going on right now, which shows they have scrambled eggs for brains.
ryggesogn2
1.3 / 5 (12) Dec 27, 2012
The entrepreneurial class are largely leeches on the labor of others.

What consumer demanded the ipod or an apple or a pet rock or an affordable auto or....?
If not for entrepreneurs creating products and creating demand there would be no growth and little to consume.
Cuba has consumers with little to consume.
BSD
1.8 / 5 (10) Dec 29, 2012
The consumer class are passive in that they merely Sustain jobs, while the entrepreneurial class are active in that they Create consumer demand to begin with, and thus are the job Creators. Liberals have this 'chicken or egg' argument going on right now, which shows they have scrambled eggs for brains.

Nothing is created if there is no demand. Why would you create something if there isn't an opening in the market for it. So without market testing to see a niche for your theoretical business to produce a widget. You will outlay capital to produce this widget and then try to market it with no market? What sort of bullshit logic is that? I hope you never get to be CEO of a company, it will go down the shit hole in a screaming heap. Dubya inherited a US economy in surplus and turned it into a bankrupt basket case. The US job market has been haemorraging jobs since then despite Obama's best efforts to fix the mess. The Republicans can't even agree amoungst themselves what to do.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (9) Dec 29, 2012
Nothing is created if there is no demand. Why would you create something if there isn't an opening in the market for it.


It's the entrepreneur that first must have the idea, create the supply that discovers a demand no one knew they had.
Thousands of products are created to fill a demand the entrepreneur thinks exists, but they fail. Some don't.
Who knew everyone would want a computer in the house or in your pocket 30 years ago?
legalize_liberty
1 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2013
Combining this research with the established body of Public Choice Economics theory and research, and it seems quite reasonable to conclude that putting government in charge of civics instruction is akin to putting foxes in charge of hen houses - a serious conflict of interest. Should we not investigate other options which put students, teachers, and parents in more direct control of the process of education? Google James Tooley and free-market education.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (7) Jan 01, 2013
Combining this research with the established body of Public Choice Economics theory and research, and it seems quite reasonable to conclude that putting government in charge of civics instruction is akin to putting foxes in charge of hen houses - a serious conflict of interest. Should we not investigate other options which put students, teachers, and parents in more direct control of the process of education? Google James Tooley and free-market education.

Sweden enables such liberty with vouchers.
Jimee
not rated yet Jan 03, 2013
Back to kings and selectively chosen billionaires (not elected) or our democracy will be destroyed!