“My Wife and Mother-in-Law” perhaps best captures the essence of public opinion about Barack Obama. This optical illusion showcases either a crooked nosed elderly woman or the jawline of a young lady with a necklace. To some people, President Obama is a liberal hero who could do no wrong. Anyone who criticises the health care law or rejected any of his actions are severely misguided and motivated by ill-intent. To others, President Obama was an arrogant and divisive President who could only do wrong. Exploding the government and leading to America’s ruin was his goal. As a result, these polar extremes explain why people are living in alternate realities when looking at the same subject. They see one or the other.
What is Confirmation Bias?
I acknowledge that I have a favourable disposition toward Barack Obama. I looked forward to him leaving office because I knew my impression of him sometimes affected objectivity of his policies. Unfortunately this is a problem I continue to have in regards to my personal opinion about Donald Trump. It’s what psychologists call the Confirmation Bias. In the article “What is Confirmation Bias?”, author Shahram Heshmat writes: “When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.”
Therefore, if you like Obama or Trump, you may be more likely to entertain information that is sympathetic to their actions. You are also more likely to specifically search for things that largely criticise their opponents. Consequently, political satire, polarised blogs and primetime partisan news are examples for why there are such loyalties within our current political atmosphere.
The Political Bubble
What furthers the divide is the ideological echo chamber of being around others who support and reinforce our own views and opinions. Regrettably, social media has played the biggest role in strengthening this bubble. I see this within my own Facebook social circle, as evidenced by the Google Extension “PolitEcho”. This tool “will examine what pages your friends have liked to estimate their political leaning and the sources for the posts on your newsfeed to figure out the relative bias of your newsfeed”. Over 20% of my Friends specifically like Barack Obama as opposed to less than 1% who like Donald Trump. The spread is markedly greater in regards to the general sharing of liberal sources of information as compared to conservatives sources.
Bias & Bubble Working together
An illustration of Confirmation Bias and The Political bubble working together is with The Affordable Care Act aka “Obamacare”. This alternative name links a persons mentality about President Obama to complex legislation. If you like or dislike President Obama and know nothing of this law, then by extension that may translate to the type of information you choose to ingest. This is certainly not to oversimplify valid appreciation or criticism of the law, for which there are many. This example is merely to highlight why some people who naturally approve or disapprove of the law cannot explain the exact source and reasoning behind their conclusion. This is further reinforced by people only sharing within their social circles information convenient to their position and arguments.
Ultimately, confirmation bias and echo chambers contribute to a polarised electorate. In order for us to try and be objective we must recognise how we are receiving, interpreting and perceiving information. We have to be willing to suffer the discomfort of challenging our personal assumptions and opinions. If nothing changes in terms of support or opposition for someone or something, at the very least we are now better informed to see multiple sides of a debate. Therefore, we can now view both the elderly woman and young lady and help others see the complete picture.