Thursday, August 20, 2015

Confirmation Bias - NH Primary Version

Last-minute surges and last-minute deciders are of course important in our primary.  I have little to say to those voters, because I don't understand them and I don't know what motivates them. But the field is already narrowed for them by the time they get to that last two weeks by the accumulated support of slower - not necessarily wiser - choosers among the larger field. I think I understand those a bit better.

If you are one, you are just about to enter dangerous territory. Labor Day and the restarting of the school year is one of the last check points before serious confirmation bias sets in. If you don't get this under control, you are going to quickly become one of those people you regret, right around oh, Feb 10 or so. You will double down repeatedly no matter what the news is. You will have chosen your guy/gal, and even if they strangle a puppy on live TV you will tell co-workers the next morning that the puppy deserved it, and besides, everyone knows it's the other party that strangles more puppies.

If you don't think you have confirmation bias, then your case of confirmation bias is probably particularly bad, yea, even incurable.  (See also, Dunning-Kruger Effect.) Everyone, everyone has it, and it is only avoided by specific effort.

Here's something you can do about it, just to smack yourself back into your senses a bit: pretend, to yourself and with courage even to others, that you are a supporter of one of the candidates who is doing poorly in the polls right now. You don't even have to switch parties (that's a pretty hard exercise anyway), as there are intelligent, decent people unable to get any traction in both places. Pick one you sorta liked anyway, or look for the positive in someone you don't know much about.  You can even tell pollsters you are supporting them - I think there is a general exemption on the Commandment about bearing false witness when it comes to polls anyway.  Theologians are standing by to help.

Leading in the polls is a matter of money or charisma at this point. (The ability to inspire anger is also a form of charisma, remember.)  You will note, when you stop hyperventilating, that neither of those things is that important a quality for a president.  They each might be net negatives.  So pick someone going nowhere and believe in them.  It will do you good. Really, it will do us all good.

You can get some of your best self back this way, before the quadrennial idiocy descends upon us.

BTW, I can't recall who I voted for in half the primaries since 1976.  I recall caring deeply at the time.


james said...

I was able to come up with something good to say about Hillary back in 2008: She’s a quite skillful liar, though not quite in Bill’s league—and that is sometimes a useful trait in a wartime president. (Rereading that post reminds me that Obama turned out to be even worse than my expectations.)

OK, that's not quite the exercise you had in mind...

The exercise I use is a little different: I imagine myself in that office. OK, now I have to figure out who to appoint to what positions. And how to persuade and horsetrade. And then I'd have to attend the meetings, with obfuscation and bullet-points summarized into meaninglessness. And I mentally run screaming.

Texan99 said...

I don't usually get particularly rabid about supporting anyone in a primary. In almost any conceivable case, I'm going to support the winner in the general election. I have a favorite in terms of positions, experience, and likelihood of winning the general, but I'm rarely sure I'm right. I can easily imagine supporting one of the other primary candidates--in fact, I know I'm likely to end up doing exactly that.

Christopher B said...

I'm with Texan99, I may have a favored primary candidate but I'm pretty much set on supporting whoever is selected. I'm more likely to find someone who I hope doesn't get the nomination. I will say that if by some fate Trump is selected, I would have a very hard time voting him.

And if it winds up being Trump vs Sanders I don't know who will be the winner .. but America will be the loser.

Sam L. said...

I don't have a presidential primary to vote in. Oh, well.

james said...

Would Mike Royko count as being a theologian?

james said...

Or this one

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Wish I'd said that

Grim said...

Growing up in Georgia, for me the primary has always been the real election. When I was a kid, whoever won the Democratic primary was going to be the elected candidate in the general. Since about 1994, the polarity on that has flipped: the Republican primary is now the real election, and the general a formality in which we decline to consider the Democratic option. The Presidential primary is the only exception to the primary-winner-wins-it-all rule as the rest of the nation gets to vote too, but it is still certain that Georgia will give its electoral votes to whomever wins the Republican primary.

That being the case, I've always taken an interest in the primaries. For me, it's been the only way to be involved that could possibly make a difference.

This year there's kind of an embarrassment of riches in that both parties have decent candidates. There's also a huge disappointment in that the runaway leaders in both parties (so far) is among the worst candidates on the ballot. But there are at least good options on both slates in the form of Jim Webb, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and others as well. At this point, I still hope against hope that the best will rise to the top and we'll have a general election between two acceptable candidates, in spite of early polling suggesting that the opposite will happen.