With statewide primaries rolling into the summer, many Americans are starting to think about which candidate to support in the 2022 general election.
This decision-making process can be challenging, especially for inexperienced voters.
Voters have to navigate angry and emotion-filled conversations about politics as they decide who to vote for. Americans are more likely than ever to view politics in a moral light, and political conversations can sometimes feel like an epic battle between good and evil.
But political conversations are apparently shaped by what Americans know about politics, and, less explicitly, what they think they know.
In a recent study, I studied how Americans’ perceptions of political knowledge shape their political attitudes. My results show that many Americans think they know more about politics than they actually do.
Lack of knowledge, overconfidence
For the past five years, I have been studying a phenomenon called “political overconfidence”. My research, paralleling that of other researchers, reveals how it interferes with democratic politics.
Political overconfidence can make people more defensive against factually incorrect beliefs about politics. It also causes Americans to underestimate the political prowess of their peers. Also, people who consider themselves political experts often ignore the guidance of true experts.
Political overconfidence also interacts with political partisanship, making factions less willing to listen to their peers across the aisle.
As a result, they lose the ability to learn from each other about political issues and events.
“Reality Check” Experiment
In my recent research on this subject, I sought to examine what happens when politically overconfident people realize they are wrong about political facts.
To do this, we recruited a sample of Americans to participate in a research experiment via the Lucid recruitment platform. In the experiment, some respondents were shown a series of statements that taught them to avoid common political falsehoods. He explains that he believes he will run out, but the reality is not as tragic as he thought.
My hypothesis was that most people would learn from the statement and become more wary of repeating common political fallacies. However, as previous studies have shown, problems soon cropped up.
First, respondents were asked a series of basic questions about American politics. The quiz included topics such as which party controls the House of Representatives (Democrats) and who is the current Energy Secretary (Jennifer Granholm). Next, we asked about the accuracy rate of the quiz.
Many of the respondents who thought they were top performers actually had the lowest scores. Much like Dunning and Kruger’s famous study, the worst performers were generally unaware that they were lagging behind others.
About 70% of the 1,209 who attended were overconfident about their political knowledge. But this basic pattern wasn’t the most worrying part of the results.
Overconfident respondents were unable to change their attitude in response to my warnings about political misrepresentation. According to my research, they read the statement and were able to report the details of what they said. However, their attitude towards falsehood remained rigid. Perhaps they mistakenly considered themselves political experts.
But if I could make overconfident respondents more humble, would they actually heed my warnings about political falsehood?
low self esteem
My experiment sought to find out what happens when overconfident people are told they lack political knowledge. , received one of three experimental treatments after taking the political knowledge quiz. These are:
For example, a respondent who thought she passed a quiz might know that she got 1 out of 5 questions correct, worse than 82% of the other respondents. Many of the overconfident respondents were pulled into reality by this “reality check” treatment. When I followed up with them, they reported far less overconfidence on average.
Finally, we asked all survey respondents to report their degree of skepticism towards the five statements. All of these statements are general political falsehoods. For example, one statement claimed that violent crime had increased over the past decade, but that was not the case. Another claimed that the US spent her 18% of the federal budget on foreign aid, when the actual figure was he less than 1%.
I expected that most respondents who received my warning would become more skeptical of these misinformed statements. On average, they did. But have overconfident respondents learned this lesson too?
Reality Check: Mission Complete
Survey results show that overconfident respondents only took political falsehood seriously when they first experienced my “reality check” treatment.
Overconfident respondents in the other conditions showed no reaction, but the humble nature of the “reality check” made it easier for overconfident participants to participate in that condition when they realized how wrong they had been. They revised their beliefs. They increased their skepticism of political fallacy by a statistically significant difference.
Overall, this “reality check” experiment was a success. But outside the experiment, it became clear that political overconfidence hampers the ability of many Americans to accurately perceive political reality.
The problem of political overconfidence
What, if anything, can be done about the phenomenon of widespread political overconfidence?
While my research does not allow me to determine whether political overconfidence is increasing over time, it makes sense intuitively that this issue is of increasing importance in the age of online political discourse. It makes sense. In the online realm, it is often difficult to assess the trustworthiness of anonymous users. This means that false claims can easily be spread by ignorant people who simply appear confident.
To address this issue, social media companies and thought leaders can seek ways to promote a discourse that emphasizes humility and self-correction. Confident and false self-representation can easily drown out more credible voices in the online realm, so social media apps can encourage posters to reconsider the “stance” or assertiveness of their posts. , you can consider promoting humility.
This may seem far-fetched, but recent developments show that small nudges can lead to powerful changes in the online behavior of social media users.
For example, Twitter’s recent addition of pop-up messages asking news story contributors to “read before tweeting” has prompted users to reconsider their willingness to share potentially misleading content. rice field.
Gentle reminders not to post bold and unsubstantiated claims are just one possible way for social media companies to encourage good behavior online. With the next election season soon to begin, such remedies are urgently needed.