With the UK General Election fast approaching, we are inundated with political broadcasts and manifesto pledges. While some will carefully consider each candidate and their policies before casting a vote, the majority of voters are unlikely to read the manifestos before making a decision. So how do we decide who to vote for? There are several behavioural factors at play…
There is such a thing as ‘looking the part’. In several experiments, participants who rated candidates as looking more competent accurately predicted 70% of winning candidates in the US & House elections (Franklin & Zebrowitz, 2016; Olivia & Todorov, 2010). The importance of how you look is most famously observed in the first US presidential debate (Kennedy vs Nixon, 1960). One study (often questioned) found those listening on radio thought Nixon had performed best whereas those watching television thought Kennedy had won the debate (widely attributed to his confident, affable performance).
If something is easy to recall, we tend to regard it as more important, more likely to happen and develop a preference towards it. For example, most people think they’re at greater risk of dying from a plane crash than food poisoning despite the reverse being true because they can readily think of examples of plane crashes. It’s no coincidence that Theresa May is repeating “strong and stable” at every possible opportunity. By doing so, it increases the possibility this will come to mind in the polling booths and potentially sway voters, in the same way “Yes we can” was instrumental in Obama’s presidential win.
Arguably the most influential bias is our tendency to search for and process new information that supports our existing beliefs and discredit information that opposes our views. In one study participants who agreed with the political views of a forum spent 36% more time reading articles than those who had opposing political views (Knobloch-Westerwick & Meng, 2009). Facebook is a great tool for confirmation bias – our political attitudes are often reinforced through friends sharing similar content as we tend to hold similar views to our friends.
To avoid these biases, you could stay clear of media and political debates with friends but as this is near enough impossible it might be worth reading those manifestos after all…