Voting With Bias: The Confirmation Bias


Election Day in the U.S. is coming fast (November 4). This post might be too late to matter much. So I’ll make it quick.

Most of us who are strongly entrenched in our political views might get physically sick if we were forced to watch an extreme cable news show espousing views opposite ours. For Democrats, that might mean Fox News. For Republicans, that might mean MSNBC.

I’m not trying to equate Fox News and MSNBC. Both may be extreme and biased, but it is an empirical question whether one is worse than the other.

I’m also not saying that every conservative who has ever bashed an MSNBC host was justified, nor that every liberal who has ever bashed a Fox News host was justified.

Just wanted to get all that out of the way.

But to cease all listening to what the other side has to say (even if listening makes you tremble with hostility, depression, or disgust) carries great risk of something called the myside bias or confirmation bias (Myers, 2013).

In the confirmation bias, we basically seek and accept information that confirms what we already believe, and we avoid or automatically discount information that contradicts our beliefs. We might be completely correct on an issue, and seeking information from the other side might be a waste of time. But it’s hard to know that for sure ahead of time. And once we start to avoid listening to the other side, it can snowball into a more seriously skewed perception of reality that can adversely affect many aspects of our decision making and how we treat people on the other side.

Jonathan Haidt (2012), author of The Righteous Mind, seemed to say that liberalism and conservatism can be equally valuable to society. I’m not sure I buy his reasoning, but his point that too many of us have politically closed minds seems valid.

locked mind

It’s okay to have a favorite political news host or journalist, but keep your eyes out for when this individual crosses lines. And maybe force yourself to listen to or read opposing views sometimes, because it’s possible that sometimes they make sense too. Hypothetically, such practices can lead to less biased voting or at least a clearer perception of reality. And after hearing the other side, you would still have the option to call it poppycock.

An irony, though, is that entrenched liberals and conservatives are not (on average) equally comfortable hearing what the other side has to say. They are not equally open-minded.

I don’t want to ruin my attempted balance and good will in this article thus far by announcing which group is more close-minded (on average) nor by citing the evidence for that position (sorry). And it is true that both sides have strengths and weaknesses.


I just want to acknowledge the risk that if one side is more open-minded and willing to consider both sides, then the other side might be more likely to win elections. That is a fair empirical question. You can decide if, given that risk, it is still worth being open-minded and trying to get a slightly clearer view of the world.



Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon Books.

Myers, D. G. (2013). Social psychology (11th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s