“Romney’s chances of winning are low”
is the message wherever I go
But what keeps me up nights–
Do I only chose sites
That confirm what I already “know”?
Confirmation bias, that’s what frightens me. You see it everywhere, especially the big news/opinion sites. Read about the latest poll and what it means in an article, and then check what the readers have taken away.
Republican commenters will point to one or two outlying polls as “accurate”, and to others as “liberally biased”. I have (no, I won’t dig it up) seen commenters utterly certain that Rove has “put the fix in” in a handful of districts, and really, it only comes down to a handful of districts in a handful of states. I have heard, again and again–and from both sides–“just you wait until November; you’ll see!”
I remember a reporter, back in 1988, who was just gobsmacked that Dukakis had not won. The reporter had been assigned to the Democrat’s campaign, and as such was inside the protective bubble of spin control. Every bit of news was filtered through an environment that heard what it wanted to hear, and refused to hear what it did not, to the point where a supposedly objective newsman fully expected, even in the last weeks, a Dukakis win.
It makes perfect sense that, in an age of information glut, where we simply do not have time to take in all the available information, that we pick and choose what we will read or listen to. And it is perfectly human of us to be biased when we do so. My mother in law fully expects a Romney/Ryan landslide. All the polls she has seen point that way. I find myself visiting Nate Silver’s blog and hoping he’s right.
In my visits to news sites, I see people utterly convinced of the truth of diametrically opposed realities. And it scares me to death.
Not because I see it in them.
But because I don’t always see it in me. And yet, the odds are I am doing the same thing.
Oh, and the “push polls” have started! These are polls that are designed with clearly biased questions, intended to force the respondent to respond favorably to whoever is behind the poll (“given X’s history of mistakes, can he be trusted to…?”). These biased polls are intended to give a picture of support, or of momentum, or of some sort of consensus for a candidate above what the candidate has actually earned. So the polls my mother in law cites, for instance, may well exist, although they may be methodologically suspect.
And since none (or very few) of us have the time or resources to check the methodologies of all of the relevant polls, we all too often trust… the ones that agree with our expectations.
And that frightens me.