Partisan Politics? Don’t Follow The Facts

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In politics we talk a lot about the vast divide between beliefs, ideals, and perceptions. We wonder why we can’t all just agree, or at least have a rational discussion.

Politics, it turns out, is not rational. Conducting a study to explore just how political views are formed, Tucker Evans and his team from Dartmouth University developed a mathematical model that considers how individuals receive information as well as the social pressures they feel to conform to particular political views.

What they found is that there are three basic factors that drive the formation of social and political groups according to the research: social pressure to have stronger opinions, the relationship of an individual’s opinions to those of their social neighbors, and the benefits of having social connections (Evans et. al., 2017).

In short, we consider our friends before we consider the facts. Seeking to avoid psychosocial pressure, we find like minded people, and simply confirm – and strengthen – our own beliefs.

Evans explains, “Human social tendencies are what form the foundation of that political behavior. Ultimately strong relationships can have more value than hard evidence, even for things that some would take as proven fact.”

It is a social explanation for ideology, but it is also reflective of a basic human need to get along with others. The result is that we often ignore facts and flame extreme beliefs. It is what many call an echo chamber.

This self-reinforcing structure copies that of partisan bubbles seen in politics and some media, and interestingly, the results were validated when used to explain the voting records of the House of Representatives from 1949-2011.

When a social network creates political subcommunities that develop on ideological grounds, the facts may not matter. But, as Evans notes, this also why it is important to understand just how this happens.

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